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Altrad: Recent Montpellier bust-up, Cockerill's new role explained

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)

Montpellier president Mohed Altrad has looked back on his club’s failed season which involved two Test-level France players confronting title-winning boss Philippe Saint-Andre in the dressing room earlier this month.

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Defeat last Sunday to Pau meant that the 2021/22 French champions finished 11th on the table, nine points shy of Bordeaux in the sixth and final play-off spot.

However, what especially hurt Montpellier in their flawed title-retention bid was their May 6 home loss to Brive, the team that would go on to finish 14th and get relegated from the top flight. That defeat also prompted an altercation between Saint-Andre and French duo Mohamed Haouas and Paul Willemse.

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The pair reportedly had very harsh dressing room words for Saint-Andre, but Altrad opted not to sanction the players and he has now explained why in an end-of-season review interview published on rugbyrama.fr. “I have a philosophy on this kind of thing,” he began.

“There are two types of management in life: hierarchical management, where one individual decides and the others remain silent, and matrix organisation, where the boss comes to decide a debate, a discussion, an exchange of various ideas that has taken place beforehand.

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“What Mohamed Haouas and Paul Willemse said that day in the locker room, they had the right to say. Willemse put the substance and form into it. Haouas put the substance, not the form. But I didn’t want to punish them because they had the right to express themselves and they were telling the truth.

“That day, I had to intervene so that these people did not come to blows. This is not my role, but this kind of thing is anticipated. The abscess should have been punctured before.”

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Last Sunday marked the final weekend of Saint-Andre being hands-on with the team in a daily capacity, Altrad explaining what the 2022 Top 14 title winner will be doing in 2023/24. “He will do what I don’t have time to do in the club, marketing, partner relations, representation in the LNR…

“It will also develop the connection between the training centre and the professional team. Philippe will also have a weekly meeting with the leading players to talk to them about the MHR institution, the history of the jersey… He will send this message: no one is above the institution.”

It was February 7, three days after England were beaten by Scotland in Steve Borthwick’s first game in charge, when it was confirmed that Cockerill would be leaving at the end of the Guinness Six Nations campaign for Montpellier.

At the time, it was stated that the Test-level assistant would become forwards coach at the club, but it has now been confirmed by Altrad that he will wield a far greater influence than just looking after the pack.

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“Richard Cockerill will be the sports boss, assisted by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde,” explained Altrad. “Cockerill will take care of the forwards. Benoit Paillaugue returns to the club and will take the place of Bruce Reihana: the return of Benoit will do us good.

“Character, he has it. He is a motivator, a facilitator. As for Benson Stanley (Clermont), he will take charge of the team’s defence. Richard, Jean-Baptiste and Philippe say a lot of good things.”

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