Castaignède quick to defend Laporte's outburst

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The Independent Online

Thomas Castaignède believes that France's coach, Bernard Laporte, is unlikely to suffer for his f-worded outburst against the crowd watching Six Nations matches in Paris, but there will be plenty more criticism to come unless Les Bleus improve.

"It's the way we are in France," said Castaignède, who has been recalled after injury to the squad to face Italy next week. "People will always react somehow, in a good way or bad way. To the English the mentality is difficult to understand."

Laporte's angry accusation that the Stade de France stands would be better filled with "volunteers and amateurs who know the game" than the "bourgeois shits" who heckled the fly-half Frédéric Michalak during last week's switchback defeat of Ireland is shocking to English eyes and ears. For Andy Robinson to wage a similarly foul-mouthed class war against the Twickenham set would be unimaginable. But that, according to Castaignède, is precisely the point.

"Every person who pays to go into the stands has to be respected and can express what they are thinking," said Castaignède, who watched the 43-31 win over Ireland, during which France flirted with losing a 40-point lead, on TV while recovering from injury with his club, Saracens. "Laporte apologised, but it doesn't mean he forgot he made a mistake. I think he had a lot of pressure after losing the first game in Scotland. I don't think there was really much meaning behind his words."

But what about the swearing? "That's the way it is. An English player wouldn't like to be talked about badly but we enjoy it. That's why I loved it when I was coached by [former Springbok captain] Francois Pienaar at Saracens. It was the same attitude. They were hard, but if you do something well they say it to you."

England will have their own opportunity to gauge the Stade de France mood three weeks today. The first judgement on Laporte's tirade will come with the visit of the Italians on Saturday. The two matches will define France's Championship, 18 months before they host the World Cup. If Laporte finds himself pelted with prawn vol-au-vents by the middle class against whom he vented his spleen, he could hardly be accused of not knowing his subject.

He spent the years 1995 to 1999 in Paris coaching Stade Français to great success, a long way from his southern roots. "I tell you, Laporte is the kind of coach that really suits me," said Castaignède. "I've been upset with him before" - the selection of Brian Liebenberg over Castaignède for the 2003 World Cup is notorious in France - "but that's normal, that's life. Laporte gives 100 per cent, he listens to the players, we don't have too many tactics and he loves an expansive game where we play global rugby.

"He's not going on all the time about details which bring you nothing. Every time I join up with the French team I really enjoy it. For me the way we train is exactly what I'm looking for."

Castaignède was concerned at how the French were physically worn down against Ireland, but does not blame the return to the pack of his fellow thirty-somethings, Olivier Magne and Raphaël Ibanez. "They have the experience and they can play the French way," he said. "I was disappointed when Ibanez left Saracens [last summer], and they didn't treat him very well either. Coaches have to make decisions but I think they got it wrong.

"With France, I'm quite convinced there's not much of a problem. The tournament is not finished, if we win all the games we can still win it. I think the people who booed were disappointed with Fred Michalak, and that Ireland came back at us. There is so much expectation for this French team and for the World Cup, and they want us to do well, to not make any mistakes and to make us work harder. And we thought at 43-3 the game was finished, but the ending was unhappy and the feeling you're left with at the end is important.

"In France, when you win a game at home you don't pay the butcher for a week. If you lose a game, you have to pay double. At Saracens this year we have lost more games at home than we have won, and yet the crowd doesn't react. If we did that in France, I tell you, we wouldn't leave the ground with our cars properly. It's in our blood."

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