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Barnes column: Fabien Galthie and Raphael Ibanez to reshape the French

Fabien Galthie

They have been talking heads on TV for some time now. Amazingly with contracts that once allowed them to miss games as Top 14 coaches to star on the small screen. Now France legends Fabien Galthie and Raphael Ibanez could soon abandon their microphones to run the national team together.

They have spoken thousands of words about how to remedy the desperate plight of one of the worst teams in French history. And this week Federation president Bernard Laporte hopes to give them the chance of doing what they say.

With Galthie, the scrum-half who has a reputation for treating some players with scorn, in charge of what happens on the field and Ibanez, the more urbane man, smoothing links with clubs and upset stars.

A prospect which will not fill La Rochelle centre Geoffrey Doumayrou, one of the most consistent choices of current team boss Jacques Brunel with much glee, for a start.

He was not too complimentary about Galthie in an interview about their days at Montpellier together.

Next thing he knew Galthie button-holed him at a game and told him:

“You will be able to talk when you have a career like mine.”

Toulon head coach Galthie is known as one of the finest technicians in the game, full of innovation and adventure. He has a knack equally developed of annoying people.

To the extent that Christophe Urios, reigning champion with Castres, slapped him in the face after a match against Toulon.

And former France boss Philippe Saint-Andre wrote in his autobiography: “Galthie is an opportunist only happy when he is trashing people.

“He keeps saying with that charming voice of his how much the France team is his priority. He says he loves it but has been assassinating it on TV for years.”

Philippe Saint-Andre
Not a fan: Former France head coach Philppe Saint-Andre has been damning of Fabien Galthie’s character. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

It is even said that he has reduced some under-performing players to tears with his cold contempt.

Now, though, looms the chance of his life after twice being rejected for the international job. Initially to “assist” Brunel for the 2019 World Cup and then to be the titled No.1 for 2023 when France host the competition.

Brunel, who ruled out any chance of having Galthie join his staff after a mauling by England during the Six Nations, has clearly been obliged to change his mind. Even though he has yet to say so.

Laporte, himself, is saying for public consumption: “Nothing will be done without the agreement of Jacques.”

But Galthie will surely be the most influential presence in picking the team and tactics, even preparing them with his new physical trainer Thibault Giroud, from Toulon.

It is an extremely humiliating position for Brunel, who has performed worse than Guy Noves, the man Laporte sacked at great expense. Seems he is to be boss in name only for the Japanese World Cup.

Ibanez, the one-time Saracens and Wasps hooker, flies back from a fact-finding spell in New Zealand this week in a bid to form what some see as a Dream Team with Galthie.

He, too, has had his candidacy turned down in the past but is now seen as an ideal foil for Galthie. Both have captained their country many times.

Ibanez while winning 98 caps, third-most in French history, and 64-capped Galthie while becoming the only Frenchman to play in four World Cups, mostly with honour.

Neither has an impressive recent record as Top 14 coaches, however. Ibanez, who signed England back row Joe Worsley to help him at Bordeaux-Begles, produced attractive teams, but failed to reach the top six.

As for Galthie, he coached Stade Francais to the title in 2008 and turned Montpellier from a mid-table outfit into a team who reached the Top 14 final.

Only to walk out of the job after a serious rift with president Mohed Altrad, winning some £500,000 compensation from a bitter court battle, and making no impression with Toulon.

The irony, now, is that the France team that carries the name of Altrad’s building materials company will have perhaps his worst enemy in charge.

No contracts have yet been signed, but Galthie is said to have given his go-ahead to a deal during a recent meeting at Laporte’s home.

It remains, however, for Galthie’s preferences for new staff to be accepted. The position of backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who left Toulouse to support Brunel on his appointment, looks particularly exposed.

The fact Warren Gatland has been ruled out of the top job by a clubs referendum against foreigners should not prevent Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards being hired.

That is all in the melting pot and, until Galthie signs his name, nothing is set in stone. Altrad has said he is over-motivated by money.

He is, however, in a powerful negotiating position even if the Federation’s finances are not in the healthiest state.

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