France will head home after a troubled World Cup campaign knowing they stunned their many critics to push champions New Zealand to the limit in an 8-7 final defeat at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday.

"/> France will head home after a troubled World Cup campaign knowing they stunned their many critics to push champions New Zealand to the limit in an 8-7 final defeat at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday.

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RUGBY

France restore pride in World Cup final defeat

France will head home after a troubled World Cup campaign knowing they stunned their many critics to push champions New Zealand to the limit in an 8-7 final defeat at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday.

The French got through to the showpiece match despite twice being beaten in pool play, by New Zealand and Tonga, and only qualified for the knockout phase courtesy of a losing bonus point in the latter match.

Sketchy form on the field was matched by vociferous criticism of the players by outspoken France coach Marc Lievremont, as rumours of a rift between the squad and management quickly spread.

France then toppled a woeful England team 19-12 in the last eight before scraping 9-8 past a Wales team reduced to 14 men for an hour of the semi final.

Lievremont rounded on his squad again after the Wales match, unhappy some players had gone out partying after he’d instructed them to have a quiet night in.

There will be a new regime for France, still to win the World Cup after losing what was their third final, when they arrive home, however.

In an unfathomable move guaranteed to erode Lievremont’s already precarious authority, his former France team-mate Philippe Saint-Andre was named as his successor in August, just as the squad assembled to travel to New Zealand.

An emotional Lievremont could only utter one word when asked what he would say to his team after their nail-biting defeat in the final: “Thanks.”

Flanker Julien Bonnaire said the France team had been brought closer together because of their well-publicised in-fighting and at times questionable performances on the pitch, notably the shock 19-14 pool loss to Tonga.

“A lot of good things happened, and some bad ones. That’s what strengthened the group,” Bonnaire said.

“The final was really close. We can hold our heads high at the end of this World Cup. We gave it our all, just as we said we would. Unfortunately, something was missing. It’s a pity.

“It’s been quite a roller-coaster but, as people say, it’s in difficult times that great teams are born, and tonight we stuck together.

“We came closer to each other during the tournament and somehow we are happy to leave the competition this way.” 

Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili added: “We are very disappointed. We thought before the game that we should give everything so that we would not have any regrets.

“It was close. We stuck together. We are disappointed we did not make it, but we are proud of ourselves.”

France centre Maxime Mermoz said the team had taken encouragement from what was written about them.

“Everything that was said about us, it was a source of motivation in the end,” Mermoz said. “We really wanted to show our better side. I think we did it and we can take some positive things away with us.”

Fellow midfielder Aurelien Rougerie, whose blunt replies to a journalist in a midweek press conference saw several members of the French press pack leave the room in disgust, added: “We can say that we came out of this competition with our heads up.

“There’s no regret. The last four months have some real ups and downs. We were ashamed to lose against Tonga, but I think we have finished on a high note.”

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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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