Galthie for French coach?
Huw Richards
September 11, 2007

"Just about the only certainty in France's Rugby World Cup campaign as they await their showdown with Ireland on Saturday week is that Bernard Laporte will not be their coach after the tournament has ended." Huw Richards reports from France

Who replaces Laporte, who will become Minister for Sport and Youth in late October, has naturally enough been a rich source of speculation in France.

No decision appears to have been made yet and the French Rugby Federation are not going to be so daft as to do anything that might further destabilise their team.

This doesn't mean that there has not been some hard thinking behind the scenes and France's specialist rugby newspaper, the Toulouse-based bi-weekly Midi Olympique, reckons the process is nearing a conclusion.

It reported on Monday that the likeliest successor was Stade Francais coach Fabien Galthie, assisted by current under-21 coach Emile Ntamack in charge of the backs and the present captain Raphael Ibanez as forwards specialist.

It is not cut and dried. Midi Olympique reported that there is also strong support for the veteran Beziers coach Olivier Saisset, a tough number eight in his club's golden age of the 1970s, well ahead of such potential runners as Sale's Philippe Saint-Andre and Patrick Lagisquet of Biarritz.

My experience of Midi Olympique is that it generally knows what it is talking about. It has on occasion got to British stories before our papers.

Saisset's stock will rise if Romania, whom he has assisted as a technical adviser, perform well in the World Cup. But the appointment of Galthie makes sense.

Like Laporte he is a scrum-half - albeit a much better one - who has enjoyed success with Stade Francaise.

One argument against is that he has only limited experience. It is only four years since he retired from playing, and his first 12 months were spent taking a sabbatical from rugby as an adviser to Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe.

It is generally argued nowadays that the sheer complication of the game and the demands on a top-flight head coach make it impossible to go straight into such posts, making an apprenticeship at a lower level or as a specialist necessary.

Galthie, though, is exceptionally smart - the most obviously intelligent rugby player I have ever met. That intelligence meant he could break the usual rules as a player, enjoying a magnificent career as a scrum-half in spite of lacking the fundamental requirement for the position, a good pass.

As Stade coach he has already worked with many of France's leading players (and he doesn't seem to have done a clutch of Argentinians any harm, either).

Midi Olympique said that one difficulty might be a poor relationship with national technical director Jean-Claude Skrela - but pointed out that he had worked very happily with his son David, outside-half for Stade and France.

If there are elements of continuity with Laporte, there is also one fundamental contradiction.

Laporte is about to join a right-of-centre government. Galthie is a high-profile Socialist. It has been suggested that this might be a difficulty, given the importance of the state in French sport. But if there are objections, they will not come from the very top.

If Nicolas Sarkozy is prepared to have a Socialist, Bernard Kouchner, as his Foreign Minister he is hardly going to worry if another becomes national rugby coach.

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