World Cup 2023: France 'fought like dogs'

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 06:26

REACTION: Bernard Laporte twice fell short in coaching France to victory in the World Cup, but 10 years after his second semifinal defeat he delivered his country the right to host the sport's most prestigious tournament.

The 53-year-old president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR) deserved to bask in his moment of glory as France upset the odds to win hosting rights for the second time, denying favourites South Africa by securing 24 votes to 15 in the run-off.

Laporte - who prior to securing the top France job was a minister in then President Nicolas Sarkozy's government and subsequently head coach of big-spending French club Toulon - may not be everybody's cup of tea but he has never been one to take criticism or punishment lying down and his forthright style takes no prisoners.

His seemingly boundless energy has driven the French bid since he assumed the reins of the federation presidency in December 2016, something the French bid director Claude Atcher paid tribute to.

"I think that when Bernard arrived we all took on the responsibility to deliver this World Cup for French rugby, for professional and amateur rugby, for the fans," said Atcher, who was visibly moved when World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont announced France had won.

"We fought for eight months like dogs."

That was certainly reflected in how Laporte reacted to the technical report a fortnight ago that placed South Africa above France.

He displayed all his street-fighting knowhow in going on a very vocal attack against South Africa - earning a public admonishment from World Rugby that proved a very small price to pay for the ultimate prize.

His full-on style contrasted to that of South African counterpart Mark Alexander, who reflected ruefully on ignoring Laporte's assault and refusing to criticise either the French or the other candidate Ireland, who had also flagged flaws in the report praising South Africa.

Laporte, though, deflected away personal praise, instead paying tribute to Atcher's role.

"It is not me who won it, it is a team," he said.

"If Claude [Atcher] had not been there we would never have got this far.

"One has to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

"Me, I have no personal gratification to take from this save to have promoted the bid and to have tried and succeeded in convincing the presidents of the federations who voted."

Laporte, who was criticised along with the bid team for flying the late great All Black Jonah Lomu's two young sons over from New Zealand for the final presentation in September, will rightly revel in the success.

But, as always in his colourful career, potential dark clouds are not far away.

An investigation - ordered by the French Sports Minister - into him allegedly influencing a federation committee to reduce penalties imposed on Mohed Altrad - owner of Top 14 side Montpellier and a large donor to the 2023 campaign - is due to report its findings in the weeks to come.

"No, this [the victory] changes absolutely nothing," said Laporte.

"We have the report due. We mustn't mix everything together.

"French rugby will still hold its World Cup, that has nothing to do with me.

"This is not a form of revenge for me. I was just the person trusted to deliver the bid."

Agence France-Presse

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