'Is it serious, doctor?' begged a headline in yesterday's L'Equipe over an analysis by the sports daily's respected commentator Henri Bru - a tormented response to the French defeat by South Africa in last Saturday's first Test in Lyons. His answer, by the way, was 'non'. The patient's condition will be further examined in the second Test at Parc des Princes on Saturday.
The same edition carried a poignant reminder of how things were. There were Dubroca, who had to resign as coach after accosting and accusing Bishop, and his successor Pierre Berbizier side by side, laughing together like the blood brothers they were. 'The photo is only two years old,' the caption noted. 'It would be impossible today.'
First there was the dramatic circumstance of Dubroca's resignation - in effect he was sacked by Albert Ferrasse, then president of the French federation, after grabbing Bishop and calling him a cheat. Then, with the appointment of Berbizier, most of the players on whom Dubroca had based his team were swept away. Now the two, one-time comrades for Agen, cannot stand the sight of each other.
'The evening of the last France-England match we almost met face to face in the bar of the (Hotel) Concorde Lafayette,' Dubroca said. 'But at the last moment he moved aside so as not to have to greet me. I have suffered a snub once, but there will not be a second.'
The story is worth recounting because it reveals the divisions that persist in French rugby and which Berbizier has to fight. When South Africa led the first Test 20-3 (they eventually lost
20-15), the sensation of daggers pointing at the coach's back was almost palpable. In manner and personality he is the model of a modern, articulate rugby coach but, without results to match, his tenure cannot be secure.
He has even contrived to upset Robert Paparemborde, the new power-broker of French rugby and manager of the national team, by the way he treated Didier Camberabero. The prolific outside-half was so outraged at the lack of communication that he retired from international rugby on the spot. As Paparemborde and Berbizier were partners in the post-Ferrasse revolution, their contretemps was quite an achievement. 'It was inevitable,' Dubroca growled.
Perhaps 'Cambe', who is probably still the best tactician in France, should not have been surprised. Berbizier has made it clear right from the beginning that he means to move on a generation. Sella, Mesnel, Lafond and Roumat were others deliberately left behind when France toured Argentina in the summer, and though he cannot do without them all, one feels he would if he could.
Even in the wake of last Saturday's defeat, Berbizier's mind is made up - hence his decision to reselect the same 21, despite the obvious defects in decision-making engendered by their immaturity. The French team may be aimed at the 1995 World Cup but they look for all the world as if right now they need more, not fewer, older heads.
'I want to function with this group. I want to evaluate this group,' Berbizier said. 'Our problem is not the individuals; it's a tactical problem. Our failure is collective, and when the collective does not function it retards the cause of the individuals. We cannot make up our minds on the evidence of one match. Personalities are always born from the maturation of teams.'
There is something curiously French about this. It was Jacques Fouroux, Berbizier's predecessor but one, who introduced collective rigour to France's rugby and Berbizier is no different in giving priority to the team as a whole rather than its component parts. But, at the same time, this is the death of that French rugby romanticism which we used to love so dearly.
But at the same time the coach is honest enough to admit that his players are still not attuned to his thinking. 'I feel myself to be the king of con-men,' he said. 'There is a great confusion in the spirit of the players. I wish we could return to a simple game, balanced between kicking and handling but my message has not been well understood. I have made my mea culpa.'
For a solution to his problems, Berbizier could do worse than follow the example Fouroux set when New Zealand had won the first Test in Toulouse in 1986. Dubroca was captain. 'During the next week there was a dreadful atmosphere between Fouroux and us. We finished by hating Fouroux and it served us well.'
So well that Dubroca's team won a famous victory in the second Test in Nantes. Perhaps, therefore, the solution now would be for the Berbizier generation to learn to hate Dubroca's former friend?
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