Jacques Fouroux

'Petit Caporal' of French rugby

Jacques Fouroux, rugby player and coach: born Auch, France 24 July 1947; married; died Auch 17 December 2005.

Jacques Fouroux was a Grand Slam skipper and coach for France, a man who earned the nickname of "Le Petit Caporal" for the way in which he whipped into shape the huge set of French forwards selected to play in front of him. Small in stature, but a giant presence both on and off the rugby field, Fouroux orchestrated the 1977 Grand Slam as captain before coaching France to similar clean sweeps of the Five Nations' Championship in 1981 and 1987. He was also in charge when France reached the final of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in Australia in 1987.

He launched his playing career in his home town of Auch, moved to Cognac and won his caps from La Voulte. He was dubbed "captain or nothing" by some of his team-mates because he led France in 21 of his 28 internationals between 1972 and 1977.

Fouroux had four wonderful battles with Wales's outstanding scrum-half Gareth Edwards during the Seventies. "Jacques was a great opponent on the field and good fun afterwards off it," Edwards recalls. "I remember swapping jerseys with him after one match and not being able to fit into it - it was tiny. It was tailor-made for him."

Wales were Grand Slam winners in 1976 and 1978, with Fouroux's French side taking the honours in between. That 1977 side remained unchanged throughout the championship - only the second team to achieve that feat - and didn't concede a try in the four games. Fouroux was a contrasting figure to the giants of the French pack like Gérard Cholley, Robert Paparemborde, Michel Palmié and Jean-Pierre Bastiat as he weighed in at only 10st 6lb and stood at 5ft 3in tall. But, Edwards says,

The French side need a strong personality to govern it and Jacques, despite his size, provided it. They said that the style of the French team changed in his era, with a huge pack of forwards taking the limelight from their more traditional, free-running backs, and he wasn't afraid to whip them into shape.

Edwards became good friends with Fouroux after their playing days were over, and describes him as "the life and soul of any gathering and never afraid to speak his mind".

Fouroux's outspoken views often got him into trouble and he turned from the darling of French rugby into something of an enfant terrible. Having taking over the coaching reigns of "Les Blues" at the age of only 34, he made an impact straight away as he steered Jean-Pierre Rives' side to an immediate Grand Slam.

Fouroux remained coach through to 1988, winning a second Grand Slam and reaching the final of the 1987 Rugby World Cup, and then took on the duties of team manager for a further two years. He became a powerful figure in the game in France and took up a seat on the council of the French Rugby Federation (FFR) between 1987 and 1990.

He looked set to become the FFR president in succession to the long serving Albert Ferrasse, who once described Fouroux as "my son", but then fell foul of Ferrasse when it came to the finer points of the board-room politics and some of the conditions he expected to be attached to his sponsorship. Fouroux's reaction was to re-immerse himself in coaching and he guided Grenoble to the French Championship final in 1993. They met Castres Olympique in Paris and were much the better side, yet lost to a controversial try by the All Black lock Gary Whetton.

His next move was perhaps his most controversial of them all, as he tried to set-up a rugby league circus in France. He launched a team in Paris, taking a number of players from Grenoble, but his dream played out to small crowds and no television and quickly died.

One of the 15 founder members of the French Barbarians, he took up other coaching positions in quick succession without much success. He was in charge at Auch between 1996 and 1998, moved to Paris to take control at Racing Club and this season re-emerged after two very difficult years in the wilderness as coach of the Italian side L'Aquila. Once again, it didn't prove to be a happy marriage and Fouroux returned to his home town after only a few months.

Two days before Fouroux's death, the Toulon president, Eric Champ, had asked his former Grand Slam coach to help out with his struggling forwards. Fouroux had been looking forward to the challenge.

Rob Cole