France’s Rugby World Cup campaign is threatening to descend into a farce after players were told to overthrow the coaching staff by controversial Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal, while skipper Guilhem Guirado has reportedly been relieved of his captaincy duties by management.
Although they have already qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals prior to this weekend’s top-of-the-pool clash with England, France have been underwhelming thus far in the tournament, notching scrappy wins over minnows Tonga and the USA after edging out Argentina in their opening match last month.
According to The Telegraph, the three-time runners-up’s patchy form has led to suggestions of unrest within the national set-up, with Guirado reported to have lost confidence in head coach Jacques Brunel and assistant Fabien Galthie.
Midi Olympique has claimed that the 33-year-old will not start in Saturday’s match in Yokohama as a result of falling out with Brunel and Galthie.
Instead, it is believed that Racing 92 hooker Camille Chat – who has started the last two tests against Tonga and the United States – will don the No. 2 jersey.
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Midi Olympique is also reporting that the playing group is fully in support of Guirado, although it is understood that prop Jefferson Poirot will be asked to lead the side against England.
The news comes after a training session scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled at short notice.
Adding to the fallout within the national side is the involvement of Boudjellal, who has called for the players to “take control” against the coaching staff, who he believes are preparing Les Bleus for failure.
The turbulence within the French squad echoes the troubles that France dealt with during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, where then-head coach Marc Lievremont lost his power over his team following their shock 19-14 defeat at the hands of Tonga in their final pool match.
The player-led side went on to reach the final of that tournament, going down 8-7 to the hosts in what remains their last appearance in a World Cup final.
During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the French national football side had a civil war within their own ranks, with Patrice Evra leading a player-led revolt against star striker Nicolas Anelka, who was sent home for abusing head coach Raymond Domenech.
Boudjellal wants the country’s rugby side to follow suit to help prevent what he believes to be an inevitable early exit from Japan.
“Take control guys, take the power, because there are coaches all over the place. Our team spirit is almost non-existent,” Boudjellal said in a video blog.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 8, 2019
“Individually, we have players who are world class. Collectively, for several years, that hasn’t been the case.
“Since when have we been frightened against these teams [such as Tonga], who we respect, of course, but who aren’t on our level? Take control guys, because it is your history, your World Cup.
“You are there for your career and for your country. You are there for French rugby and to try to go as far as possible, to see if you can win this World Cup – but we will only get there if you take control.
“Our coaches who are there, I invite you to visit Japan, go and look around, treat yourself and leave the players to tell their own stories because for years I have not understood the game plan of this France team.
“Something is going wrong, so it’s over to you guys [the players]. Tell the coaches to go on holiday. Write your story yourself.
“There is a lot of experience, there are guys in this group who will certainly be major coaches in the future, so start to be a big coach today. Kick the coaches out, take control, tell your own story, because we are ready to follow you.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 7, 2019
The French coaching set-up is already under scrutiny, with Galthie set to overtake Brunel as head coach following on from this World Cup.
The 2002 World Player of the Year joined the French coaching ranks as Brunel’s assistant in April following a subpar Six Nations campaign, which included three losses and a record 44-8 thrahsing at the hands of this weekend’s opponents at Twickenham.
France’s pre-World Cup results improved since Galthie’s arrival, but morale within the squad has plummeted since a near-second half capitulation against Argentina, which almost led to a repeat of the 2011 loss to Tonga on Sunday.
A defeat to Eddie Jones’ side in four days’ time would pit France up against the winners of Pool D, which is shaping to be Wales, who defeated France 24-19 in their Six Nations opener in Paris earlier this year.
Conversely, victory would see them face the runners-up of that group, which looks set to be Australia, who prevailed 25-23 in their last encounter three years ago at the Stade de France.
With the fate of their playoffs to be decided come Saturday, all eyes will be on Brunel and his side as they face the media on Wednesday.
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