World Cup leaves mixed emotions in France

France’s first hosting of rugby’s World Cup will leave drastically mixed emotions on the home front.

The six-week long tournament was superbly organised, the grounds were packed, and there was colour and drama aplenty.

But the script that had the French hosts taking on the mighty All Blacks in the final in Paris failed to materialise as Bernard Laporte’s men collapsed before the might of England’s veteran pack in the last four.

It was a nightmare result that plunged the country into despair just one week after the euphoria that followed the upset win over New Zealand in the quarterfinals in Cardiff.

The 34-10 thrashing at the hands of Argentina in the third-place play-off on Friday completed the humiliation and Laporte will now step away from the job he has had for the last eight years to join the government as a junior sports minister.

Laporte knew all along that anything short of delivering a first World Cup win for France would be seen as a failure, but he must have hoped for a glossier finish what he experienced in the fiasco against Argentina.

“We are fourth and we wanted to be first,” he said “But we are still fourth. We beat the best team in the world [All Blacks] but it wasn’t enough because we wanted to be first. We are not the best in the world otherwise we would have won.

“What I felt is that it is an exceptional group of men who had values and it was a joy to coach them.
The players were fabulous and still want to improve. It’s wonderful to share such strong emotions in the pain or the happiness.”

The search for a new coach is now on and new players will be needed as well with veterans such as Fabien Pelous, Raphael Ibanez, Serge Betsen and Christophe Dominici unlikely to play again at international level.

What also remains to be seen is whether the huge surge in popular support in France for rugby that crystalised during the World Cup is maintained.

For the best part of two months rugby hit the headlines in France like never before, dominating coverage on television, radios and newspapers and the interest was nationwide, not just in the traditional rugby heartlands of the south-west.

“Caveman” lock Sebastien Chabal, became a cult hero to millions, flyhalf Frederic Michalak’s movie star looks adorned advertising hoardings and the nation eagerly awaiting every pronouncement from the mouth of the enigmatic Laporte.

Sports daily L’Equipe recognised this phenomenon, saying that France

was now firmly established as the biggest power in world rugby.

“France crashed out of the World Cup by the back door last night, but consolation—she has not lost everything,” the paper wrote after the Argentina fiasco.

“We are even firmly installed now as the premier economic and political power in world rugby with more than two million spectators in the stadiums, 18-million fans in front of their TVs for the semifinal [against England] and Bernard Lapasset’s rise to become chairman of the International Rugby Board.”

Lapasset, the powerful head of the French Rugby Federation since 1991, will replace Ireland’s Syd Millar as the top official in world rugby after unanimous election by the 28 members of the IOC council on Friday.

This all means that France will play a central role in the development of world rugby over the next few years, but L’Equipe voiced concern that all the gains made over the last few months could be undermined if old domestic quarrels are allowed to resurface.

“France has a crucial role to play in the next few years, conditional on having a vision of where we want to go,” the paper wrote.

“And that is far from being the case. To believe the rumours over the last few days, the bad old days are coming back.” - Sapa-AFP

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