MARC LIEVREMONT - profiled by Rupert Bates
Marc Lievremont was behind the bar serving beers to his squad, having insisted the shy man-child mountain Mathieu Bastareaud stood on a table and belted out La Marseillaise.
So that’s a couple of myths exploded. The France coach is not detached from his players and does know how to enjoy himself – occasionally.
With some of the chat coming out of France you would think Lievremont is about as popular a French coach going into a World Cup year as Raymond Domenech was, with the rugby squad just as revolting as their football counterparts were in South Africa last year. To lose 59-16 at home to Australia and escape the guillotine suggests Lievremont has the Scarlet Pimpernel’s mobile number.
The appointment of Lievremont, who won 25 caps, after the last World Cup in France’s backyard, was a huge surprise. He certainly did not crave or lobby for the job.
Some say Lievremont is enigmatic; others he is one croissant short of a continental breakfast. If he capped teeth as often as he capped players he would be the world’s wealthiest dentist.
Lievremont, the eldest of seven rugby-playing brothers from Argeles-sur-Mer in Catalan country near Perpignan, recently went on a skiing holiday, presumably believing Val d’Isere might be a promising outside-half.
One man who knows Lievremont well is Richard Pool-Jones, the former England and Wasps flanker, who spent three years beside Lievremont in the Stade Francais back-row and, like Lievremont, splits his time between home in Biarritz on the Basque coast and business in Paris.
“As a player Marc was slightly away from the crowd, but not in a negative way. He was not naturally one of the boys and is highly principled,” said Pool-Jones now a leading rugby pundit in France, as well as managing his investment fund.
In other words Lievremont was not one of Stade Francais flamboyant owner Max Guazzini’s party animals.
“Marc expects a lot of himself and those around him and likes loyalty. He is discreet, very humble and a real family man. He does not appreciate outspokenness in a team environment,” said Pool-Jones, whose one England cap came against Australia on the 1998 ‘Tour from Hell.’
Unlike his predecessor Bernard Laporte, Lievremont, 42, is not comfortable with the media - understated and content to operate under the radar, rather than court attention.
“If Marc looks unhappy in front of a microphone it is because he is. He does not seek public recognition.”
Pool-Jones rejects talk of dissension in the French ranks and Lievremont ‘losing the dressing room’ in the wake of the trouncing by the Wallabies in November.
“That was not capitulation. France were simply outclassed and technically naïve. Senior players looked hard at themselves and there were harsh, honest words spoken as you would expect after a defeat like that.”
There was method in the madness of bringing in so many players in his first year. Pool-Jones believes Lievremont wanted to take full advantage of his honeymoon period, with no great burden of expectation post the 2007 World Cup. Young half-backs Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc were Lievremont debutant picks in his first squad and scrum-half Parra in particular has matured into a world-class player and leader.
“Marc did not seek the position and coaching is not central to his existence, so if the worst happened and he lost the job it would not be the end of the world. This gave him the freedom to experiment.”
Do not mistake this for not caring or not knowing what he is doing. Behind the apparent insouciance, lies a fierce competitor and leader, passionate about doing his best for French rugby, winning another Grand Slam and the World Cup.
“We have had six very difficult months for the French team and we need to gain confidence again and the respect of fans and the French press by our performances on the pitch,” said Lievremont.
“My captain (Thiery Dusautoir) and I were both criticised and rightly so because we are the people in charge, who make the engine tick.”
Lievremont says his Six Nations squad will “more or less be the squad that goes to New Zealand” for the World Cup.
Pool-Jones agrees that the tinkering is over, but injuries have played their part. France are both blessed and cursed by the number of international class players they can choose from, even if they do not perform consistently at the highest level.
“The pack can compete with and strangle most sides in the world. There is no weakness in the forwards and Imanol Harinordoquy is firing on all cylinders,” said Pool-Jones. By contrast the first-choice back-line – hefty or nimble - is far from settled.
Lievremont has tended to share the ring publicly with his coaching team of Emile Ntamack and Didier Retiere, but now realises the head coach needs to be the sole face and clearly in charge.
“’If people have anything to say they say it to me. It is my responsibility,’ is his approach now,” said Pool-Jones.
“Marc is bright and generous. As a player he was just about the best tackler I ever saw. That passion, hardness and spirit has to come from somewhere.”
The next time Lievremont seems detached and distracted, look behind the eyes. They are on fire. He is planning on serving plenty more celebratory beers yet.
England Saxons to play Italy A
WILL THE REBELS YELL? by Rupert Bates in Melbourne
“Starting a sporting team from scratch is a great challenge; more memorable because you are sharing the new experience with everybody at the club,” said RaboDirect Rebels head coach Rod Macqueen.
Rugby union is nothing new to Macqueen, coaching the Wallabies to World Cup glory in 1999, followed by the Tri-Nations title in 2000 and victory over the British Lions in 2001.
The Sydneysider then went fishing, or so many thought, but there has always been much more to Macqueen than rugby. A commercial artist by trade, he founded a multi-million dollar merchandising and brand building company called Advantage Line; wrote a book lauded more for its business ideals than any rugby revelations and continued his lifelong love of surf boating, where he was a multiple New South Wales champion.
Macqueen, 61, wants his new Melbourne charges – be they gnarled internationals or rookies – similarly to remove the rugby blinkers and broaden their minds beyond the boundary. You cannot catch new waves unless you lose sight of the shore.
“Balance is very important which is why the players are linked to Victorian schools, clubs and charities. We are determined to create a culture and brand that makes us synonymous with the State,” said Macqueen.
The team has a five-point creed that spells out Rebel – Respect, Excellence, Balance, Ethos and Leadership. The logo, which Macqueen helped create, embraces the five stars of the Southern Cross.
“Get the right culture and you are 50 per cent of the way there. How you act off the field is as important as on it.”
You can dismiss the desire to spread the rugby gospel through Victoria where AFL is the religion as psychobabble. But Macqueen does not do bull and as the most successful Australian coach ever he is worth listening to.
Macqueen was the coach of the Brumbies at the outset of Super rugby, so knows about building a new franchise. A lot of his recruitment has been based around leadership with 13 of the Rebels squad having captaincy experience at senior level, including former Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock, set on regaining his Test jersey after injury.
Macqueen is learning from AFL, talking to Carlton coaches and picking up new training drills and kicking techniques. “Watching the pace of the Carlton boys in training is an eye-opener.”
Equally AFL can learn from Macqueen, a coach determined to build a squad of rounded, grounded characters unlikely to get caught with their pants down.
“I am actually a Carlton fan and was really impressed by Chris Judd’s Brownlow Medal speech about sportsmen being very fortunate and losing perspective on the real world.”
Danny Cipriani, the England star out of mind and now out of sight, if not videotape, of national selection, has some minor celebrity baggage from London to keep the paparazzi happy, but Brendan Fevola he is not. Cipriani has been working with NRL legend Andrew Johns – more evidence of Macqueen’s enlightened approach.
”Danny, who we might play at full-back or first-five, is very skilful, a fine athlete and a good reader of the game. He has had problems under media scrutiny in the past and we are trying to protect him, espouse the team ethos and let Danny concentrate on his rugby. It would be great to see the likes of him, Stirling and our Wales number 8 Gareth Delve back in Test jerseys on the back of their Super 15 performances.”
Macqueen is not so much after a market share of Melbourne’s diverse sporting landscape, knowing he cannot compete with AFL in its backyard, but looking to add to its rich canvas.
“Despite all the great sport in Melbourne, it is a one union team city and we will be representing it on the world stage, not just in Australia.”
With the coup of poaching Brian Waldron from Storm embarrassingly followed by his resignation in the light of the salary cap scandal, the Rebels turned to one of Australian sport’s most respected administrators Ross Oakley, who oversaw the transformation of VFL to AFL, as its new chief executive.
“We believe there are about 15000 fanatical rugby supporters in and around the city and about 10,000 who we term theatre-goers and hope to capture,” said Oakley.
A big advertising campaign is about to hit Melbourne, which is where the Rebels chairman and major shareholder Harold Mitchell, the media tycoon, comes in handy, with the Rebels a privately owned franchise.
The Rebels lack nothing in commercial savvy, but ultimately a sporting brand can only be built on the back of profit on the pitch. Melbourne needs winners, not just ambassadors.
“You cannot do anything special unless you take a risk. I believe this squad can be competitive from day one. We need to be brutally honest about ourselves and know that we have done our very best.”
Come the ‘Rebelution’ on the day a cut-out of Mortlock replaces Judd, Macqueen can go fishing.
This article originally appeared in The Age, Melbourne. www.theage.com.au/sport
Wallabies legend George Smith and Toulon help Queensland flood victims
Wallabies legend George Smith, supported by Australian Rugby Union, has offered an exclusive “Money Can’t Buy Rugby Experience” to help support the Queensland Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal.
The “Money Can’t Buy Rugby Experience”, which will be auctioned off via Grays Online, includes:
· 2 return business class airfares to France;
· 5 nights accommodation in Toulon;
· Exclusive dinner with 5 world renowned international Rugby greats currently playing at RC Toulon – George Smith. Johnny Wilkinson, Felipe Contemponi, Carl Hayman and Joe Van Niekerk;
· Sideline access tickets to Toulon v Stade Francais Top 14 match at Stade Mayol, Toulon on August 1, 2011;
· VIP All access Passes to dressing room and post-match function;
· Attend the Captain's Run as a guest of George Smith the day before the match;
· A signed game jersey from Toulon v Stade Francais match;
· A signed game jersey from a Toulon Heineken Cup match;
· A Toulon merchandise pack; and
· A signed Wallabies jersey.
Smith said: "Being across the other side of the world, knowing what’s been happening at home, and having a number of Australians here at Toulon, it has been a talking point around our squad for the last couple of weeks.
"It has been hard to be this far away but I hope in being able to pull this together we can make a small contribution to those needing assistance in Queensland.
"Other Australian sportsmen overseas have been working hard, and it’s inspiring to see what the likes of Andrew Bogut and Tim Cahill have done to help.
"It’s also great to see Rugby in general get behind the relief efforts.
"I looked at some of the well-known international faces in our Toulon team and in approaching them to come to a dinner as part of the package, they didn’t hesitate. They wanted to participate.
"The Toulon club, in allowing the access they have as we put together the components of the auction, have also been great.
"Being here with other Australians in Matt Henjak, Mafi Kefu and Fotu Auelua, we just wanted to help in some way."
The auction will kick off at Midday on Friday 4 February and close at 10pm on Sunday 6 March with all money raised going to the QLD Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal.
Since the devastating floods hit Queensland in early January the Rugby family has rallied in support of those effected.
The ARU has donated $50,000 and is working with SANZAR and the five Australian franchise teams on other projects and initiatives to help raise funds for the appeal.
Qantas Wallabies and Queensland Reds players Anthony and Saia Faingaa have announced they will donate their first Super Rugby game match payments to the flood relief appeal.
Several Reds players spent time at council depots around Brisbane helping to fill and distribute sandbags during the Brisbane floods while the Reds medical staff gave up their weekend following the floods in Brisbane to offer free medical assistance at Ballymore to those injured by the floods.
Qantas Wallaby and Western Force star James O’Connor has also done his bit to help raise funds putting his historic match winning boots from the Wallabies victory of New Zealand in Hong Kong up for auction.