Vanquished French set sights on world glory in four years' time

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The Independent Online

The only criteria that the French rugby president, Bernard Lapasset, is setting for the next national coach is to win the World Cup.

The incumbent, Bernard Laporte, will make his exit next week, bringing an end to an eight-year stint in which France has won four Six Nations titles but failed twice to get past the semi-finals of the World Cup.

On Saturday, France led 9-5 in the second half and were still one point ahead with less than 10 minutes remaining only to lose 14-9 to England. The French lost at the semi-final stage to England in 2003, with goalkicker Jonny Wilkinson their nemesis both times.

"We are one of the countries that has invested the most in rugby," Lapasset said. "We are not world champions. That is one problem we have: how to take French rugby even higher in the hierarchy."

The new coach will be appointed a couple of weeks after the next Saturday's final, with former wingers Philippe Saint-André and Patrice Lagisquet and the Toulouse coach, Guy Noves, reported to be among the candidates. Laporte, the France manager, Jo Maso, and some of the veteran players Fabien Pelous and hooker Raphael Ibañez will be consulted.

"A new coach is not chosen randomly, you don't pull a name out of a hat," Lapasset said. "This type of decision is shared: we all have experience. We will speak calmly about it. In the 15 days after the World Cup you will know the name of the new coach."

Maso will stay on with France until 2011, Lapasset said, despite French media reports saying that the former France centre Philippe Sella had been contacted to take over the job.

Lapasset praised Laporte's time as French coach. "Bernard is the only coach I kept on for eight years and his dynamism and personality helped French rugby to have the following it has now. I am proud of the work that has been put in."

However, he hopes that France can finally end its habit of following one amazing performance with a poor one. Last weekend, France rallied from 13-0 down to beat Cup favourites New Zealand 20-18 in the quarter-finals. Eight years ago, the French did the same against the All Blacks, coming back from 24-10 down to win 43-31 a week before succumbing 35-12 to Australia in the final.

"We were there to win this World Cup," Lapasset said. "What happened last week was extraordinary. But we were not able to repeat that."

Lapasset also praised England hero Wilkinson. "The match was sealed by one man who does things that other people can't ... Jonny," he said. "You have to take your hat off to him."

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