Captain Fracasse Series (1/5) – Laporte: “The most difficult thing was being a starter, not captain”

Midi Olympique dedicates a series to the captains who forged the history of this game, not necessarily the best players, but incomparable to send others into the craziest fights.

Before he was a successful coach, a France XV coach, a secretary of state for sports or a president of the French Rugby Federation, Bernard Laporte was an honorable scrum-half, without immense talent but with a amazing leadership and guidance ability. others A born leader, charismatic captain of Bordeaux-Bègles des “Rapetous”, crowned champion of France in 1991.

We either love it or hate it. We support it or we fight it. We make them a model to follow or, on the contrary, to banish. Whether we like it or not, Bernard Laporte – a central figure in this sport since the early 90s – never leaves anyone indifferent. He is even the ultimate archetype of the quintessential divisive type. But, if there is one point on which everyone, relatives or opponents, agree about him, it is in his qualities as a leader. The former scrum-half, now 58, has that rare ability to rally behind him and lead in his stride, whatever the context. Thus, many were impressed, during the campaign for the presidency of the French Rugby Federation in 2016, by his ability to mobilize, transcend and electrify the rooms in the background of the campaigns to win an election he had left very far. a few months ago

Bernard Laporte has already gone through a thousand lives, whether at the head of the French Stadium, the XV of France, the Secretary of State for Sports, RC Toulon or even the FFR. With one constant: that of being in charge, at the top of the hierarchy. He is a man of power, of decisions. In each of the positions mentioned, he has accumulated many successes, specifically a few Brennus, European Cups, World Cup semi-finals or the organization of the 2023 World Cup. He has also experienced failures, none of which prevent him from returning to battle. Always on the front line.

This responsibility always has

To understand this leadership, almost innate in him, perhaps it is necessary to look at his early life. On the ground, where he was on duty number 9. He is not the most talented, far from it, but he is already a boss. This has consistently conferred on Tarnais by birth the role of captain. “I’ve always been sporty, I’ve been a captain, it’s true,” confirms the interested party. I was from a very young age, when I started playing football. But also, later, in the small categories of rugby. I had started my career as an opening act and I was already given this responsibility. Then when I grew up and flourished in rugby, it was the same. » At his first club Gaillac, where he became a respected scrum-half and where he led his team to the Crabos French Championship titles in 1982 and 1983. And then to Bègles-Bordeaux where he had decided to continue his path.

It was there, in the midst of a personal drama on July 24, 1985, that his life may have changed and provided him with that infectious resilience for good. At the end of the day, on the road between Langon and Gaillac, Laporte fell asleep at the wheel of his car and hit a banana tree head-on. The shock then plunged him into a coma. When he woke up in the military hospital, he was made to understand that his future as a player was in jeopardy. Laporte immediately asked his mother to buy him all the books on rugby coaching. He read them, researched them, analyzed them, gaining a height and perspective of his discipline that would prove invaluable to him.

When he was finally given the green light to return to a lawn, he had evolved like this. More than ever engine of a group. “I’ve always loved it,” he admits. I appreciate thinking about finding the right words, using the right axes to get everyone following you. After all, a captain is first and foremost a player who must be exemplary. A player who should not be late to training and even early. It has to be there first, or among the first. I have this passion for rugby. I always took it as a game, as a pleasure. I never forced myself to come to training. But I also made sure that my colleagues did the same. »

Simon: “He did what he wanted with the team”

It was there, the predisposition of Bernard Laporte. In his natural way of accompanying others, showing them the way, pushing them or haranguing them when the need arose. A boss with immense influence. One day, on the set of BeIN Sport, his faithful companion Serge Simon had illustrated: “Bernard’s ability to manage men, to rally around him, to train others, to take you beyond what you think you’re capable of… I’ve never seen anyone else have that talent, in the same height »

That says a lot. The former international mainstay knows much better what he’s talking about since Bernard Laporte was his captain at CABBG during the 1991 French Championship title, when he masterfully guided a pack that had taken everything in its path. The famous era of the “Rapetous”, this first Simon-Moscato-Gimbert line as fierce as it is crazy. Who else but Laporte could draw its quintessence in the meadow? He was an average player, but an amazing captain.

Serge Simon again, laughing with voluntary exaggeration: “Player, Bernard was cool. He knows it. No passing, no running and never tackled anyone. He was, however, the best captain, without a doubt. He did what he wanted with the team and he did it his career. The interested party assumes this particularity: “This direction, I was aware of it. It helped me in my mission. For me, when I was a player, the most difficult thing was perhaps being a starter, not a captain.”

Unlike other men, whose rugby qualities gradually turned them into executives, Laporte’s unparalleled leadership eventually led him to become a better player. Because he refused to be a mere group leader, barbecue organizer or staff spokesperson. “No, a captain must be indisputable in the game, still proclaims the president of the FFR. Before being a leader, he is first and foremost a managerial player. Personally, I don’t like the notion of a dressing room captain. We hear it often, here and there. But that doesn’t mean much. In my eyes, the primary mission of a captain is to lead his men on the field. He doesn’t have to replace the coaches but, somewhere, he has to be coaching once the game has started. Subtlety is important. And then, a captain should not be afraid to go to the front line, whether with the referee, on the pitch or with the coaches. » At this point, the Gaillacois made it an honor never to escape.

And Serge Simon, with a certain sense of formula, to sum it up: “Bernard was undoubtedly a much better captain than player. But, joking aside, that’s precisely why he was a great player.”

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