French go back to the future by naming Villepreux


FRANCE signalled their intention to return to their free flowing style yesterday with the much anticipated appointment of former international fullback Pierre Villepreux to assist coach Jean Claude Skrela.

Villepreux, widely, respected as a formidable tactician who espouses the traditional open French game, will start by helping France in their bid to win the Five Nations tournament which opens with an away match against Ireland on January 18th.

"We have strengthened his position inside the FFR. He was already a member of the commission that reflects on the game. Today, he takes on a new dimension," French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Lapasset said yesterday.

"We've taken our time, it's true," said Skrela, a former team mate and joint coach with Villepreux at Toulouse who took over from Pierre Berbizier after the 1995 World Cup.

"I know Pierre well, we have coached together enough to know there won't be any problems. In any case, we have worked together for a year on the (style of) play and we'll have no difficulty in finding the right organisation for training the French XV."

Lapasset, also confirming Jo Maso as team manager and head of the selection committee, said the new set up would remain in place at least until the 1999 World Cup.

Villepreux said: "When Bernard Lapasset told me he was going to put forward my nomination to the board, I was thrilled, of course. I'm going to listen a lot, discuss a lot, watch a lot. It's a wonderful opportunity to do something new. I take this as a great chance and a personal challenge."

Villepreux, a 53 year old physical education professor at the University of Limoges, can be expected to teach France, at a low ebb after losing the two Test series against South Africa last year, his idea of "total rugby".

A taboo subject under the previous administration of Albert Ferrasse, Villepreux had previously exported his ideas to Italy and spent a short period helping the England management in 1989.

Villepreux, one of the best French fullbacks of all time, with a 37 cap career that lasted from 1967 to 1975, helped sow the seeds of Toulouse's European Cup triumph last season with 10 years' work, in conjunction with Skrela, from 1981 to 1991. He was a modern, overlapping fullback also noted for his goal kicking.

Villepreux, who coached Toulouse to their first honours in 38 years, left the club in 1991 after a row with the players.

"It's good to have someone who brings other ideas. I've never worried about shocking people with what I have to say and I don't hold grudges," he said.

Meanwhile, Colomiers scrum half Fabien Galthie, who last played a full international in June 1995, was one of five players recalled yesterday to the French squad for their opening Five Nations match against Ireland.

Galthie, 27, replaces Guy Accoceberry, while out half Alain Penaud, Toulouse duo, centre Thomas Castaignede and star winger Emile Ntamack, and prop Jean Louis Jordana return after missing the two Test series with South Africa because of injury.