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Laporte focus remains on World Cup

RUGBY: France rugby coach Bernard Laporte insisted Tuesday that his focus remains on winning the World Cup despite being named as French sports minister following this year’s tournament.

Highly-regarded as a leader of men but also known for his outspokenness and sometimes hotheadedness, Laporte’s appointment comes as no surprise as he is close to newly-elected French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“I’m delighted even if my name has been circulating for some time. I believed it without really believing,” said Laporte.

“For the past year the president has told me ‘you’d make a good sports minister’. I thought there was a chance but I never dreamt that I would be minister of sports! And then I always told the players that I would go all the way to the World Cup with them whatever happens.

“I feel great pride for those who are close to me. This nomination belongs to them, to all those involved in French rugby.”

France hosts the World Cup from September 7 to October 20 and the 42-year-old Laporte, who has led France since December 1999, told AFP: “My priority is to win the World Cup and all my energy will go into that.

“I’ve always said that there is first the World Cup to play. My mission to coach the French rugby team has never been put on the back burner.

“I know that my passion for rugby is going to be brought to a conclusion. That drives me more than ever to go all the way.”

But those who are expecting a more diplomatic Laporte in his future ministerial role will have to wait. “A cat can never be a dog!” he warned.

Married and a father to twins, a boy and a girl, Laporte’s appointment crowns the ambitious rise of the man of modest origins from Gaillac in the Tarn region of southern France.

Of slight build for a rugby player, Laporte earned the nickname “Barmy Bernie” since his early playing days as a scrum-half with UA Gaillac.

After winning the French Under-21 championship with Gaillac in 1983 and as a captain in 1984, Laporte soon outgrew the local side.

He came to the attention of Andre Moga, president of Begles and he joined that club in 1984, leading them to the French championship title in 1991.

Two years later he began his coaching career with Bordeaux and in 1995 packed his bags for Stade Francais in the French capital.

His arrival in Paris marked a new departure for rugby-mad Laporte, opening up the world of showbusiness and politics, largely thanks to Max Guazzini, president of Stade Francais, who was close to Nicolas Sarkozy and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe. His association with the future French president grew during football matches at Arcachon near Bordeaux where Laporte owns two restaurants.

Because in addition to his sporting activities, Laporte, who brought Stade Francais from the third division to win the French championship title for the first time in 90 years in 1998, is also known as a shrewd businessman with restaurants, camping sites and casinos throughout France.

After taking over the national side in 1999 from Jean-Claude Skrela and Pierre Villepreux, Laporte had a less than convincing start.

But he began to remodel the team based on hard work and discipline, and by modernising the French game thanks to Anglo-Saxon tactical theories, leading France to the Grand Slam in the Six Nations in 2002 and 2004.

Four years after the disappointment of France’s elimination in the 2003 World Cup semi-finals, Laporte has made winning the trophy on home soil his absolute priority.

His decision to move on afterwards comes as no surprise to those who know him.

Toulouse coach Guy Noves said: “The French team is effectively a trampoline. We were wondering what he would do after the World Cup. Now we know.”



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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