French rugby clubs vote against foreign coach for national team

French Rugby team. (AFP pic)

PARIS: French rugby clubs have opposed the idea of having a foreign coach for the national team, according to the results of a referendum released on Friday.

Just 900 of the 1,742 amateur clubs in France opted to take part in the vote, and 59% voted against the proposal, the French rugby federation said, despite a disappointing 2019 Six Nations tournament and low expectations for this year’s World Cup in Japan.

“I will respect this choice,” said federation head Bernard Laporte, who has made handing power back to the clubs the motif of his bid for re-election as FFR chief in 2020.

Current France coach Jacques Brunel will step down after the World Cup and Laporte was keen to test the potential grassroots support for a foreigner taking up the reins.

Laporte opened the debate in the wake of France finishing a disappointing fourth in this season’s Six Nations, saying at the time that he had not ruled out appointing a first-ever foreign coach to replace Brunel, with France to host the next World Cup in 2023.

Laporte did not name any possible replacements for the 65-year-old Brunel, who has been in charge since 2017, but said he had “gone to meet the five best coaches in the world to offer them the job”.

Among the names bandied around as potential candidates to replace Brunel were New Zealand duo Warren Gatland – who led Wales to this season’s Six Nations Grand Slam –and current Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, as well as Australian Eddie Jones, presently at the helm of England.

France is alone among Europe’s leading rugby union nations in never having employed a foreign head coach.