On October 23, France coach Guy Noves will name his squad for November’s internationals against New Zealand, South Africa and Japan. At that point, who has the upper hand in an ongoing personal power struggle between Noves and his boss, FFR President Bernard Laporte, will be clear.
Laporte, who has troubles of his own away from the fortunes of the national side, called the coaches of the senior national men’s side to a meeting on Monday, where he demanded a shift in selection policy, Le Figaro reports.
Nevermind that Noves now has an elite player list of 45, who have all been working on personalised fitness and training plans. Laporte wants changes. He wants fresh French faces. He wants to see a new, youthful France, galloping freely across the Stade de France, Stade de Gerland and U Arena. He wants them blissfully unencumbered by French failures of the recent past and ignorant of what they cannot, should not, be able to do.
He wants them to do that rugby voodoo that they do so well in club colours.
Of course, Noves does not have to pick his November series squad solely from his list of elite players – a list that already includes young guns Antoine Dupont, Baptiste Serin, Damian Penaud and Romain N’Tamack.
He is open to select players not in the elite 45. And Laporte has in mind the likes of Toulouse fullback Thomas Ramos, La Rochelle’s Gabriel Lacroix, Stade Francais’ Paul Gabrillagues, Lyon’s Thibaut Regard and Baptiste Couilloud, and Bordeaux’s Yann Lesgourgues.
There is logic in Laporte’s youth policy. The 20-year-old Dupont single-handedly destroyed 28-year-old Morgan Parra’s international ambitions when Toulouse entertained Clermont in the seventh round of the Top 14. Penaud has been a shining light for the defending champions, who have struggled this season. Couilloud seems incapable of doing wrong as the pivot of a high-flying Lyon. The elusive and lightning-fast 5ft 7in, 80kg Lacroix plays as if he is 8in taller, 20kg heavier, and twice as quick.
As Laporte said: “I want to see young players. I see good ones [in action] every weekend. They have to play at the highest level … We have two years to prepare for the World Cup in Japan.
“I do not want to impose anything on Guy. But we can talk, right? He’s lucky to have a president who has been a coach like him. I will tell him what I think of some selections… ”
Laporte has previously stated he wants France to win three of their four matches next month. But he seems willing to soften his hardline stance – which would call for a victory over New Zealand – if Noves goes young with his selections.
“It will depend on the context, and with the players we go with,” Laporte said. “If it’s a promising team, no problem. But if it’s the same players we used in South Africa, when we had three disastrous matches, then I’ll be worried.
“There are young promising players, a lot of talent that deserves to be teamed up, in France. If we do not change, we will go straight into the wall …”
Noves will gain nothing but plaudits if he names a young side for the four-match series in November. It would be a win-win, given French rugby’s years of failure.
There is, as Laporte says, a surfeit of young talent in French rugby. They can be exciting and frustrating in equal measure. They can be as mercurial as a stadium full of Freddie Michalaks. They can be … French.
But there’s another name on Laporte’s list. He’s not in Noves’ elite 45. He’s not young. And he already has 39 caps to his name. He’s Mathieu Bastareaud.
Laporte wants to see him back in French Bleu. So, if you see his name in Noves’ squad on October 23, you know who’s in charge at Marcoussis.