Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, wonders what a French legend thinks of the nonsense going on the other side of the Channel and applauds the New Year’s Honours.
Jean-Pierre Rives was 65 on New Year’s Eve and, for those of a certain age, the blond bombshell flanker, who won 59 caps, 34 as a captain, for France between 1975 and 1984 was more than a bit of a hero. What the great man would make of what is going on with his beloved French rugby at the moment is anyone’s guess.
It is bad and it has just got worse. Our mate Stephen Jones, of The Sunday Times, called it ‘too much of a shambles to be a shambles’. He was spot on, and not before time.
The most famous image of the brilliant Rives is the one where he has blood pouring from a head wound and spilling all over a white French jersey. Hands on hips, hair all over the shop – he looked ready to take someone out even though he was spurting claret.
That snap, taken in 1983 during a match against Wales, is one of the most famous rugby pictures ever captured. It is probably only second to Colin Elsey’s ‘Mudman’ frame of Fran Cotton during the 1977 Lions tour to New Zealand.
It summed up Rives. He was cut to ribbons and he didn’t give a monkey’s. We’ll gloss over the fact that he allegedly got smashed in a collision with a team mate because it still summed up Rives to this teenage rugby fan.
Icon doesn’t even do the bloke justice.
Rives, who is now a sculptor, would give everything for Les Bleus so it would be fascinating to know what he makes of the current shambles in the French game.
It would be even more fascinating to know what sort of sculpture Rives would make to represent French rugby. The odds-on favourite is that it would be something pear-shaped.
You know the French, bonkers and brilliant, brutal and brilliant, could beat anyone on their day and all those other clichés. The way they are going at the moment they don’t look like they could beat an egg.
Maybe we should let them get on with it and commit rugby hari-kari but everyone of our vintage has got a soft spot for them.
To recap, the latest news in the crazy, crazy world of Bernard Laporte, the president of the French Rugby Federation is this…..
A couple of days after Christmas the FFR got shot of Guy Noves, the 63-year-old coach of the national team, about six weeks before the Six Nations and replaced him with Jacques Brunel, another 63-year-old spring chicken.
Noves probably did not need a crystal ball to tell him that he might be in P45 territory – he has been around the block with Toulouse after all. He was appointed French gaffer in 2015 and out of 21 games that he took charge of, France won seven.
This is the France that used to have players like Rives, Serge Blanco and the great prop Robert Paparemborde turning up and scaring the merde out of opponents.
In the autumn France lost to New Zealand, no shame in that, got beaten by South Africa, which is quite difficult to do at the moment, and drew with Japan.
Get your coat Guy.
But it gets better and it could only happen in the madcap world of Bernie Laporte.
Most international coaches get the bullet knowing that the wound will be softened by a massive pay-off bung but the latest, according to the French press, is that Noves and his assistants, Yannick Bru and Jean-Frédéric Dubois, have been called to a misconduct hearing.
If the FFR wins that one it will dodge having to shell out anything between 1.5 and 3 million euros in compensation.
One report said that the union had the hump because Noves did not visit the Top14 teams often enough but that is one for the lawyers who like being the only people who will profit out of this sorry mess.
Noves won the European Cup four times as boss of Toulouse, so he knows his oignons, but he has struggled with a French system that has seen the club game flooded with imports.
Even Laporte managed to concede Noves knew his way around the game.
“He has had eye-catching success. He didn’t become a bad manager from one day to the next,” said Bernie.
“I have respect for what he achieved. If I’d been against him the first thing I’d have done (when becoming French rugby head honcho in December 2016) would have been to get rid of him.”
But now Bernie has got rid of Noves he has got his old mate Brunel in. The same Brunel who was Laporte’s assistant in the 2000s when Bernie was head coach of France.
And the same Brunel who was in charge of Italy from 2012 to 2016 when they won a paltry 11 games out of 50 and those included victories over USA, Canada and Tonga.
It is hardly an appointment to set the Gallic pulses racing.
Even more bonkers is the idea that Brunel’s assistants will be temporary and bussed in and out from clubs from the domestic league week by week. Can you imagine Eddie Jones standing for that nonsense?
Here you go Eddie – you have got Wales on Saturday. This week you can have Sale’s forwards’ coach, the Bath backs’ coach and someone from Northampton to run the line out. You don’t know the blokes but crack on.
Rives was blond, good looking and a great, gutsy back rower. We loved him as a player and hated him for having everything – because we all wanted to be like him.
Talk about a rock star.
Bill Beaumont, England’s former captain, said his team’s only real plan in 1980 when they beat France 17-13 in Paris on their way to Grand Slam was to stop Rives. He was that good.
He was part of one of the great French back rows, alongside Jean-Claude Skrela and Jean-Pierre Bastiat and was skipper of France, on Bastille Day in 1979, when they beat the All Blacks at Eden Park, 24-19, a week after they had been pumped in Christchurch.
France could play back then. With Rives about they won Grand Slams in 1977 and 1981 so it would be more than interesting to hear his thoughts on the current state of French rugby over a glass of red.
Unlike Rives, back in the day, what is going on in France is not pretty. It is pretty ugly.
Rives might be ready to draw his pension but there are a few people in French rugby who should be pensioned off and a few getting their coats.
**
Yet again RugbySpy missed out on the gongs in the New Year’s Honours List but some far-more deserving rugby figures got due recognition.
Sam Warburton got an OBE, he should have got a bit more, the brilliant Scottish prop Ian McLauchlan, aka Mighty Mouse and a hero of the 1971 Lions tour to New Zealand, was elevated to the same status.
James Robson, the doctor who has been on more Lions tours than most, and treated more injuries than most, was given an MBE. Seeing him in action we always thought he deserved a medal – he has got one now.
But Ed Morrison’s OBE was the one that stood out. Morrison was England’s first professional referee and took the whistle in the 1995 World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand even though he was disgracefully snubbed at the post tournament reception.
We have written about that before.
Morrison has worked with the RFU, and the-then Pro12, and with the Bristol Referees’ Society but most importantly he is a good bloke.
He was one of those referees, like Nigel Owens and Wayne Barnes now, who have a genuine empathy with the game. Strict, but not nick-picking, and the players knew who was in charge.
And he is good company off the pitch as well. When he was working with the RFU as head of elite referee development he used to turn up at games to run the rule over the whistlers.
He was bloody handy too when you were trying to write running copy and trying to work out why one penalty or another had been given.
And you can guarantee that whoever doles out the honours at Buckingham Palace when Morrison goes to