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French rugby in ‘sad’ place off the field before Six Nations – Les Bleus great Magne

Former France back-row Olivier Magne said off-the-field problems bedevilling the country’s rugby are “sad” to see as Les Bleus prepare to start the defence of their Six Nations crown on Sunday.

Last week, French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte resigned following his conviction for corruption in December.  

In October, the general manager of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, Claude Atcher was removed from his position after being suspended by the sports minister two months earlier due to what an internal report called “alarming managerial practices”.

“Unfortunately, it’s sad for French rugby which doesn’t have a good image at the moment,” Magne, who is now in charge of French club Lyon’s under-23 side, told AFP on Monday. 

Yet, on the field Fabien Galthie’s side are on a 13-Test unbeaten run, which includes last season’s Grand Slam success.

“In the end, these issues haven’t had an impact on the sport, we’re happy to see that France aren’t too troubled by them,” said Magne, an 89-time international.

In less than eight months’ time, France will kick-off the World Cup against three-time winners New Zealand in Paris.

Galthie, who played with Magne for France, has rejuvenated the team’s performances and results since taking over in December 2019 attracting record television audiences and sell-out crowds for games in Paris, Marseille and Toulouse.

“It’s the question, how will France manage the pressure that has been born and will continue to grow?” Magne said.

“The pressure from the fans, the media, on the field.

“This France side has done a lot of work on the mental aspect of things. We will see if they can put everything together, we hope so,” he added.

Before the sport’s showpiece event, France start the defence of the Six Nations by travelling to Italy this weekend.

Magne, 49, who had club spells with Clermont and London Irish, won the tournament and its Five Nations predecessor twice each.

“I waited impatiently to play the Six Nations every year,” he said. 

“To feel the atmosphere, the weight of history, which is more than 100 years, it’s extraordinary,” he added. 

‘Painful choice’

Before the trip to Rome, the biggest decision for Galthie is among his loose forwards.

Blindside flanker Francois Cros has returned from injury to challenge his Toulouse team-mate Anthony Jelonch, who started all three wins during the Autumn Nations Series.

“Fabien has the choice between the best. It’s a rich person’s problem,” Magne said.

“It will be painful and difficult to choose which player to leave out of the starting team, it will be hard to tell him.

“It’s part of coach’s life, you have to choose,” he added.

At Lyon, Magne has worked with the club’s in-form winger Ethan Dumortier.

The 22-year-old has been rewarded for his form with a first call-up by Galthie and is in contention to make his debut at the Stadio Olimpico despite Gabin Villiere’s comeback.

“He’s a guy who works a lot. He does things with hunger, a lot of freshness,” Magne said.

“He has a good feeling about positioning, he defends well, is opportunist, he’s awake on the field.

“He totally deserves to be assessed by France, to see what he can bring, how he can play at the international level,” Magne added.

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