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FEATURE Fabien Galthié's French honeymoon is over

Fabien Galthié's French honeymoon is over
7 months ago

As honeymoons go, Fabien Galthié has enjoyed a long and luxurious love-in with the French public and press. But the days of gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes are over. Tension has crept into the relationship and the sweet nothings have become words of bitter reflection.

“The Day After” was the headline on the front of Midi Olympique in the week after their defeat by South Africa in the quarter-final of the World Cup. Staring out from the newspaper was a glum Galthié, his misery reflecting that of the nation which had believed their name was writ large on the Webb Ellis Cup.

As France struggled to process the pain of a third consecutive quarter-final exit they first took out their rage on the referee. Time is a great revealer, however, and the focus of their disillusionment has since switched to the head coach. “Fabien Galthié, the End of Immunity,” declared Midi’s lead article.

No-one is suggesting Galthié’s position is in danger, even if the new president of the FFR, Florian Grill, is not such a redoubtable ally as his predecessor, Bernard Laporte, the man who appointed Galthié to his position in 2019 and was a friend and confidant.

France
Galthie subjected his players to a brutal summer programme with intense focus on the World Cup opener against New Zealand (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

A recent poll found 87% of people canvassed want Galthié to remain in charge, and so they should. In his four years as coach Galthié has won 35 of his 44 matches; in 2022 he guided France to their first Grand Slam in 12 years and he has transformed a notoriously flaky side into a disciplined and well-organised outfit. Inexperience cost them their quarter-final but they were up against a veteran Springbok squad, one of the best teams of the century.

Nonetheless mistakes have been made in the course of France’s World Cup campaign. Galthié focused solely on the Bleus’ opening match against New Zealand during his lengthy planning for the tournament. It was in his eyes a win-at-all-costs match, and it was also of paramount importance, according to Midi Olympique, in getting the press and public on board.

Defeat would be catastrophic for the hosts on and off the field. Galthié based that belief on the assumption Italy would be serious opposition and if France lost to New Zealand there was the very real possibility they could then lose to the Italians and, like England in 2015, be dumped out of their own World Cup at the group stage. Galthié wasn’t to know that Italy would be so shambolic.

Questions have also to be asked about the inclusion of Antony Jelonch and Antoine Dupont.

To have his players at their peak for the New Zealand game on September 8, Galthié drove them hard during the summer. Too hard. Several players suffered muscular injuries that healed in time for the start of the World Cup but perhaps left them a little off match fitness. Romain Ntamack, Paul Willemse and Cyril Baille succumbed to more serious damage, as did hooker Julien Marchand 20 minutes into the New Zealand game.

Ntmack and Willemse had to withdraw from the squad and though Baille returned during the pool stage the prop wasn’t the force he was in the scrum. As it turned out, the absence of Willemse was probably the loss that hit France hardest. The South African-born second row is a big unit: 6ft 5 and 20 stone. He is a genuine lock, unlike Cameron Woki and Thibaud Flament, both converted loose forwards. How France could have done with Willemse’s bulk against the Boks.

Questions have also to be asked about the inclusion of Antony Jelonch and Antoine Dupont. Jelonch suffered a serious knee injury against Scotland in this year’s Six Nations but Galthié insisted on selecting him for the World Cup despite the fact he had not returned to competitive rugby. It was misplaced loyalty by Galthié.

Jelonch had an ineffective tournament and should never have started against the Springboks. Nor in hindsight should Dupont. There was the odd glimpse of his genius in the quarter-final but the scrum-half was clearly conscious of the cheekbone he fractured in the pool win against Namibia and less combative as a result. Dupont sustained his injury in the second half but he shouldn’t have been on the field; France led Namibia 54-0 at half-time. The game was done and dusted so why was Dupont sent back out? Prize assets should be protected where possible and not risked in meaningless minutes of rugby.

Antoine Dupont
Antoine Dupont played in the quarter-final weeks after suffering a facial injury (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The surgeon who operated on Dupont’s cheekbone, Professor Lauwers, said in a recent interview that had the World Cup been in the southern hemisphere the scrum-half would not have played in the quarter-final “because the distance between the player and the doctors in his country made it too difficult to get rapid treatment”. One also may wonder if Dupont was rushed back into the starting XV for the quarter-final precisely because France was hosting the tournament. Galthié must have been under enormous pressure to pick Dupont, the ‘face of the tournament’ and probably the world’s top player. If he had left Dupont out of the side in favour of the very able Maxime Lucu, and France had lost, it doesn’t require much imagination to know who would have been blamed.

Galthié’s contract runs until 2028 and in the wake of the defeat by the Boks he declared his intention to honour that accord. His former Test team-mate, Raphaël Ibañez, France’s team manager, has a contract of similar length, and defence coach Shaun Edwards has signed on until the end of the 2027 World Cup.

But there will be new faces in place for next year’s Six Nations. Laurent Labit (attack coach), Karim Ghezal (line-out) and Thibault Giroud (conditioning) have left, replaced respectively by Patrick Arlettaz, Laurent Sempéré and Nicolas Jeanjean.

The man with the Midas touch has become the man with the mediocre touch.

The greatest change facing Galthié, and the most challenging one, is as Midi Olympique put it, the end of his immunity with the press. The man with the Midas touch has become the man with the mediocre touch. One celebrity site recently revealed in a rather sniggering piece Galthié lost his rag with a French broadcaster during the World Cup after they showed footage of his half-time team talk against the All Blacks. “The man who likes to keep things under control clearly doesn’t want his words to get out without his knowledge,” smirked the article.

How will Galthié respond to a more hostile media which no longer allows him to control the narrative of a team on an inexorable rise? As a club coach he had a reputation for being brusque and volatile. “Cold”, “manipulative” and “calculating” are some of the words his enemies have used to describe his character. He has kept these traits hidden during the last four years, but that was during the honeymoon period. Now that the first flush of love has evaporated what Fabien Galthié will the French see?

Comments

36 Comments
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Wern 225 days ago

He build a formidable French team and will highly likely win the next WC. What’s the issue Galthie is a great coach? If you loose by 1 point in a QF with a game that many say was the greatest ever, what insanity to say he is a bad coach?

D
Dr A 225 days ago

Truth be told.

The French have been “by the skin of their teething” for a while now and the Galthie/Edwards axis showed a lack of improvisation to go up gears after peaking in the 22 6N.

They Morris danced their way in to the 1/4s beating a garbage ABs side coached by the worst coach the All Blacks have ever seen, captained by a sub standard 7, and lined up to face …

…The KINGS of the jungle, the Boks. The real deal no nonsense outfits of World Rugby (that once got pumped by Japan 🤣)

Mortlock mentioned on the GIBRA pod that France always find a way to F it all up.

Oh they did, they did in grand style.

Pornoman Galthie and his dark frames will not be taken seriously again.

J
Jon 227 days ago

France should be back for 2027 - Ntamack needs to rehab and bulk a bit, FRA needs 2 more good props due to retirements, there is a really good lock coming up from the under-20s (huge islander) so I think FRA can feature again. Danty is not that mobile so develop another 12 just in case

B
Bob Marler 228 days ago

England’s best chances of winning a second World Cup was in 2019. Then the unexpected happened and in a short time after the EJ experiment was flushed months before the 2023 tournament. Faith, belief was lost. It’s easy to understand why - and how that can lead to a breakdown in relationships (and separations).

I wonder if there will be some emotional decisions made in some of our NH teams that will see coaches departing under similar conditions between now and 2027. Won’t mention names.

What I do think is that the team that wins 2027 has, as we speak, their coach confirmed and committed for the next 4 years. Through thick and thin.

G
Gideon 229 days ago

The unpleasant truth is dealing with this french supporter base which is truly shambolic, why? They've improved somewhat by not turning on their own team in-game, but expecting a RWC win from their team because of the home advantage is ridiculous. Then turning on the team that beat them in the QF’s for the rest of the tournament just shows you the mentality of the french supporters, vengeful and bitter. Thinking back on the French Open in tennis, supporters are shameless in their biased support and hatred of any opponent standing against their players going through. Even sending death threats to Reinach and his family is one of the worst possible outcomes for a French hosted Rugby World Cup, which for purely rugby entertainment has been brilliant, but one can not help that a RWC should not be hosted in France for a foreseeable time. There are tensions politically in this country that runs over like a dam wall bursting open. Sport will never replace or take away your pain and resentment with joyfull bliss France, it is a momentary window in time where you forget your troubles, that's all.

M
Mark 231 days ago

Most consistent French team in a long time that with a few bounces a different way could’ve won it all … no reason not to look at maintaining the set up & planning on the next RWC

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Nool 232 days ago

They should retain him.

M
Martin 232 days ago

Tom Curry … APOLOGIZE

J
Juan Jose 232 days ago

Of all the teams in this world cup, France is the most likely to have success in the coming 4 years and next RWC: young team, excess of talent, now with experience at high levels and higher pressure. All others are restarting. Ireland will be down for several years. NX, SA, ARG: new cycles await.

A
Andrew 232 days ago

If the revered French coach were to leave however, sky-diving could be a good option with those trade-mark spectacles. 😉

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