/ France

/ Features

The life and times of 'mad' Bernard Laporte
Paul Eddison
April 10, 2014
It is never boring when Bernard Laporte is around © Getty Images

The world of French rugby is filled with all sorts of wonderful characters but there is no one quite like 'Mad Bernie'.

Bernard Laporte was the man accused of eliminating French flair, he ranks behind only his Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal as the most outspoken individual in the game and in one of his final acts as France coach he managed to convince a team stacked with talent to try to out-English the English with disastrous consequences.

Now the vociferous former scrum-half is currently serving a 16-week touchline ban for his graphic criticism of referee Laurent Cardona, described as: "hopeless, incompetent and who robs us [Toulon] every time he refs us", and those were just the milder terms!

And yet, as he edges closer to potential back-to-back European titles as well as the Bouclier de Brennus, perhaps it is time to appreciate quite how much Laporte has achieved.

While Bernie and his iconic rimless glasses first came to the attention of the majority of British rugby fans in 1999 when he took over the French national job, he'd already secured his place in the French rugby landscape for his efforts as a player.

"The bigger question for Laporte - whose story is all the more remarkable when you consider he spent several months in a coma as a 20-year-old after a serious car accident - is what happens next?"

Although he was never capped, Laporte was the natural leader who captained Bègles-Bordeaux and their notoriously violent front row to the 1991 French title. Serge Simon, Vincent Moscato and Philippe Gimbert never took a step back in their rugby-playing lives, indeed former boxer Moscato is best-known for his red card in Le Crunch in 1992. However, when 'Bernie le Dingue' told them what to do, even these three bruisers got into line.

Once his playing days were over, Laporte got his big chance when he was appointed head coach of Stade Français in 1995, then in the third division but under the ownership of radio magnate Max Guazzini.

After consecutive promotions in his first two years, Laporte led a star-studded Stade team to the Bouclier de Brennus in their first season back in the elite, and despite falling in the quarter-finals the following year, he had done enough to earn his spot with the French team.

In eight years Laporte led France to four Six Nations titles including two Grand Slams, which makes him the competition's most successful coach since the arrival of Italy, but in contrast he twice fell short at the semi-final stage of the World Cup, both times to England.

The second of those losses, in 2007, came after France's shock defeat in the World Cup opener against Argentina, from which would soon emerge a classic Bernie anecdote.

Feeling the need to motivate his players before they kicked off a home World Cup, Laporte asked Clément Poitrenaud to read a letter from a teenage member of the French resistance, Guy Moquet, to his family just before his execution in front of the firing squad in 1941.

The plan backfired in spectacular fashion, with Les Bleus slipping to a 17-12 loss to the Pumas and while they would gain some measure of redemption by knocking out favourites New Zealand in Cardiff in the last eight, even Bernie must feel 2007 was a golden opportunity missed.

During his time in charge of France, Laporte managed to instil a level of discipline which had been the side's Achilles heel for decades, but the criticism often levelled at him was the took the soul out of the French team.

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal and coach Bernard Laporte enjoy the moment, Clermont Auvergne v Toulon, Heineken Cup Final, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, May 18, 2013
Lifting the Heineken Cup alongside Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal © Getty Images

The closest France have had to a foreign coach in terms of mentality, Laporte was one of the few French proponents of physical preparation and more structured attacking play. But above all he championed 'le combat', which to him was the most important part of the game.

The struggles of his successors Marc Lièvremont and particularly Philippe Saint-André on the international stage have put some of the criticism he received into context, although it's fair to say his conservatism at times proved costly, never more so than against England in 2007.

Having stepped away from rugby for an ill-fated stint in politics as French sports minister, Laporte returned to his first love, eventually succeeding Saint-André in Toulon in 2012.

Final defeats in the Amlin Cup and the Top 14 in his first season were followed by the club's historic European crown last year at the expense of Clermont, with a possible double still very much on track this season.

The bigger question for Laporte - whose story is all the more remarkable when you consider he spent several months in a coma as a 20-year-old after a serious car accident - is what happens next?

Out of contract at the end of the season, Laporte seems to be edging closer to a new contract with the Galacticos in Toulon, but another intriguing possibility has now emerged.

In 2016 Pierre Camou will step down from his position as president of the French Federation, and after Laporte's frustrations with officials this season, as well as the federation itself, he would certainly provide an explosive new candidate to succeed Camou.

The man himself admits the challenge is one that appeals to him, although he insists he is yet to make any decision.

It remains to be seen whether Laporte has burned too many bridges to win any potential vote, but after his success as both a player and particularly as a coach, there are few who'd back against Bernie le Dingue doing the same again with the FFR.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Rugby

    Blues can still make Super finals: Kirwan

    A believer in sporting miracles, Sir John Kirwan hasn't given up on his beleaguered Blues making the Super Rugby finals despite their none-from-six start to the season

  • Boxing

    Brook makes perfect comeback on return from stabbing

    Six months after being victim of a machete attack that left him fearing for his life, Kell Brook dished out a vicious attack of his own in his a first world title defence

  • Tennis

    Heather Watson flounders at Miami Open wash-out

    Heather Watson's challenge at the Miami Open ended in the second round as Angelique Kerber won their rain-affected clash which spanned two days

  • Rugby

    Handre Pollard kicks Bulls into seventh place

    Bulls five-eighth Handre Pollard became the first Super Rugby player past the 100-point mark this season as his team defeated the Crusaders 31-19 in Pretoria

  • Rugby

    Disallowed tries hurt Force in loss

    Two disallowed tries ensured the Western Force ended their South African tour winless with the Sharks securing a 15-9 Super Rugby victory at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday

  • Football

    A Klose call

    Miroslav Klose scored goals in the World Cup final tournaments of 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Has anyone else scored World Cup goals 12 years apart?

  • Formula 1

    F1 cost cutting: Not putting money where the mouth is

    Mudslinging and an agreement on something that will never happen, it's all in a day's work for a Formula One boss, as Maurice Hamilton explains...

  • Formula One

    Tough at the top

    Who has driven in the most GPs before taking pole position?

  • Rugby

    Unsavoury sledging did not end with Potgieter

    Fallout continues from the NSW-Brumbies derby, with one Tahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised by other unsavoury comments during the game, Greg Growden reports

  • Rugby

    Super Rugby preview, team news, line-ups: Round 7

    Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks

  • News
  • Features

Sponsored Links

Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income