Ibanez keen to fight his way back
February 4, 2000

When coach Bernard Laporte took over from Jean-Claude Skrela after the World Cup, France captain Raphael Ibanez was forced to step out of the limelight.

Number eight Fabien Pelous of Toulouse was appointed skipper and veteran Colomiers Marc Dal Maso, long considered only for the bench, has been called up to replace Ibanez for Saturday's Six Nations match against Wales at Cardiff.

For the first time since he was named captain by Skrela replacing Agen's Abdel Benazzi in January 1998, 27-year-old Ibanez will start a tournament match on the bench.

"Obviously, it's a blow for me," Ibanez said. "The World Cup is over and a few things have changed.

"I don't know anybody who is happy not to play. But I'll try to take something out of this...I haven't discussed the matter with Bernard (Laporte) yet. This is his decision and they have to be respected. He is the boss on board and he is free to make his own choices."

Laporte, who was never capped by France but has a good coaching record including the French title with Stade Francais, is keen to make changes.

On Wednesday he named a widely reshuffled team to play at the Millennium Stadium where France have lost their two previous matches against Wales in August and Australia in the World Cup final in November.

"I came here with some ideas of my own,'' he said. "I'm sorry but I don't know what has been done in the past. I was not here. But what I know is what I want to do."

Laporte has the strong conviction that the key of the modern game is an efficient and powerful scrum.

"The scrum is now the moment in the game when you can produce clean balls for the backs," he said. "So I want a strong scrum. I don't say a devastating one but a decent one."

The replacement of Ibanez who embodied the Skrela era was almost inevitable.

The former French captain offered to resign after France finished bottom of last year's championship with three defeats including losses to Wales and Scotland at the Stade de France.

But Skrela and assistant-coach Pierre Villepreux refused to change captain six months before the World Cup and maintained Ibanez in his position.

Despite the support of Skrela, the French skipper faced criticism when France produced unconvincing performances in the early stages of the World Cup especially against Fiji in Toulouse.

The historical victory over New Zealand in the semifinal in Twickenham overshadowed the criticism for a while but Ibanez was doomed.

The first decision Laporte took after his appointment was to name a new captain and the second was to replace Ibanez as part of his changes.

"This is a challenge I have to face," Ibanez said. "But I'm a challenger and I can promise you I will do everything to come back. I'm not going to give it up."

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