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RUGBY

Coach Lievremont lashes out at lacklustre French

Coach Marc Lievremont's outburst at some of his players for the way they performed in the win over Japan has unearthed fault lines in his squad that threaten to undermine France's World Cup campaign.

Despite a 47-21 scoreline, the outspoken Lievremont was dismayed at the way Les Bleus allowed the Asian champions back into the match to the extent that they were just four points adrift well into the second half.  

And he used his post-match press conference to lay into those who he felt had let him down, notably star back rower Imanol Harinordoquy, a player with whom he enjoys close ties.  

“The way he played displeased me,” Lievremont said. “At times he was very lackadaisical. Taking into account his experience and the role he plays in the team, it was annoying.” 

Lievremont’s comments followed those of Harinordoquy several days beforehand when he expressed his doubts over the coach’s tactics of ensuring that all 30 of his players see action.  

Subsquently, Lievremont spoke to the 31-year-old player, who has been capped 71 times for his country, and was told that he had not meant to be seen to be criticising his coach.  

But it was not just Harinordoquy who came in for a tongue-lashing.  

Lievremont also took aim at his half-back pairing of Dimitri Yachvili and Francois Trinh-Duc saying they had been lacklustre at the heart of an overall poor team performance.  

“I was frustrated with the way our play was polluted with approximations, technical errors, indiscipline,” he said.  

“A dozen penalties against us and so many mistakes made on moves that were relatively easy.  

“We studied this Japanese team and we saw that they had weaknesses especially in the static phases of their defence.  

“At times we managed to knock them off balance, but we were so wasteful in our finishing and we lacked organisation.”  

The French squad arrived in New Zealand following home-and-away wins over Ireland in build-up games, but with some doubts over their ability to go deep into the tournament following a poor Six Nations tournament.  

On top of that, Lievremont learned before leaving France that he would lose his job after the World Cup, four years after he was a surprise choice to take over from Bernard Laporte.  

Not known for pulling his punches, Lievremont has panned his team’s performances before, notably after the 10-34 loss to England in the 2009 Six Nations, or more recently in the shock 21-22 loss to Italy in Rome in March.  

But he rarely singles out individual players for criticism and it remains to be seen how that will go down.  

Next up for the French is what should be a relatively straight-forward clash against Canada in Napier on Sunday with Lievremont looking for more consistency from his men ahead of the showdown with the All Blacks at Eden Park on September 24.  

“I thought we had the chance to really get going in the tournament by playing against teams that we should beat comfortably and thus build up our confidence and consistency, but for the moment that has not been the case,” he warned.

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SPORT

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

Lawyers for FFR President Bernard Laporte said he was going to appeal against the court's verdict

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

French rugby was reeling Tuesday after the president of the country’s governing body Bernard Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges nine months before France hosts the game’s World Cup.

Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Laporte, 58, was convicted after a French court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier. He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years. Both are suspended pending an appeal, which Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.

Laporte later stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, pending a review by the body’s ethics officer.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal,” World Rugby said.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code,” it added.

Resignation call
Laporte faces problems on the domestic front, too, with Florian Grill, who narrowly lost to him in the 2020 election for federation chief, calling for Laporte and the entire board to stand down.

“It is unheard of in rugby, this is an earthquake,” Grill told AFP. “We have never before seen a president of the federation condemned to two
years in prison, even if it suspended.

“We think the 40 members of the board of directors should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president, and called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.

The court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and
€50,000 euro — in exchange for a €180,000 image licensing contract that was never actually carried out.

Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

The friendship and business links between Laporte and Altrad are at the heart of the case.

It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte agreed to appear at Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.

But while that sum was  paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he neveractually provided the services he signed up for.

Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed the €1.8 million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

The Altrad name and logo still features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. It is also on the All Blacks’ national squads’ shirts, and New Zealand Rugby is reportedly seeking an urgent meeting with company officials following the court ruling.

Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism
with regards to Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.

He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against the club from €70,000 to €20,000 after several telephone calls from Laporte.

While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.

On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.

The verdict comes only nine months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.

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