Rugby Union: Berbizier bows out as coach

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Whether he jumped or was pushed, Pierre Berbizier last night accepted that he was no longer coach of France and that Jean-Claude Skrela, an illustrious flanker of the 1970s, was about to replace him, writes Steve Bale.

Such is Berbizier's reward for guiding France to the semi-finals of the World Cup three months ago. When he failed to turn up yesterday for a meeting in Paris with Bernard Lapasset, the French federation president, he was peremptorily sacked.

Berbizier, 37, preferred to see it as a resignation. "I denounce the system and refuse to remain in it," he said, articulating his exasperation at the federation's consistent failure to implement his demands that French clubs subordinate their interests to those of the national team.

He was appointed after the 1991 World Cup in succession to the disgraced Daniel Dubroca, who had accosted the referee after France's quarter-final defeat by England. "If we achieved anything in four years, it was only sporadic and mostly while we were away on tour," Berbizier said. "The federation has no project for the future. Officials are more concerned with getting elected than with preparing the rugby of tomorrow."

Berbizier's positon had been undermined last week, when he was subjected to a virulent attack by Albert Ferrasse, Lapasset's presidential predecessor. Even if he had met Lapasset as planned, his reappointment would have been subject to so many conditions - one a ban on talking to the press - that he would almost certainly have turned it down.

Last night the new coach had not publicly accepted, though the excited mayor of Colomiers, the suburb of Toulouse where he coaches the local First Division club, had earlier done so on his behalf. Skrela, 45, previously had an outstanding playing and coaching career with Toulouse and France, winning 46 caps.