Noves fired as France coach and replaced by Brunel

French Rugby Federation President Bernard Laporte speaks during a media conference in Paris, France, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Bernard Laporte announced that France rugby coach Guy Noves has been fired two years after taking the job and replaced by Jacques Brunel. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
French Rugby Federation President Bernard Laporte gestures as he speaks during a media conference in Paris, France, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Bernard Laporte announced that France rugby coach Guy Noves has been fired two years after taking the job and replaced by Jacques Brunel. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
French Rugby Federation President Bernard Laporte adjusts his trousers during a media conference in Paris, France, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Bernard Laporte announced that France rugby coach Guy Noves has been fired two years after taking the job and replaced by Jacques Brunel. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

France rugby coach Guy Noves has been fired two years after taking the job and replaced by Jacques Brunel.

French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte announced the decision at a news conference on Wednesday.

"These are painful moments, it's difficult for me too," Laporte said. "Guy Noves was no longer the right man for the situation."

Brunel coached Italy from 2012-16 and coached the France forwards as an assistant coach from 2001-07. During that period, France won the Six Nations four times — including the Grand Slam in 2004. As a club coach, Brunel guided Perpignan to the French title in 2009.

"I've known him for a long time. I know his professionalism, his commitment, his passion," Laporte said. "He understands the international level. He has experience, he has broad shoulders."

Last month, Laporte gave Noves a tough challenge to win three of the four November tests. France lost twice to New Zealand and once to South Africa. It almost became four defeats as Japan was a missed conversion from beating France for the first time in a 23-23 draw.

"We sensed that he was on the downward slope, we want to get back to the France team that wins," Laporte said. "The decision was taken recently. I didn't take it alone, we consulted everyone."

Noves had been showing signs of strain under mounting pressure.

After the 18-17 loss to South Africa, he reacted with an equal measure of anger and sarcasm when asked if he was worried for his future.

"With all due respect, you're tiring me with this question. I won't answer questions about it," he said. "I don't ask myself questions about my future. I'm a family man, I have three children, and everyone's fine, thanks."

But under Noves, France had also lost three tests heavily away to South Africa in June.

Although Noves was France's most successful club coach — leading Toulouse to four European Cup and 10 French league titles — his magic touch never carried over onto the international arena.

Overall, he won only seven of 21 matches during his tenure, drawing one and losing 13.

There were some mitigating circumstances, however.

He took over with France at one of its lowest ebbs — having been humiliated by the All Blacks 62-13 in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

In order to regain confidence, France needed to bounce back at the Six Nations Championship of 2016. Noves even pledged to rejuvenate France enough to build a team capable of winning the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

But France finished next-to-last in the 2016 Six Nations and third in 2017, digging out only gritty victories and failing to show its trademark flair.

His constant tinkering with the side was highly confusing, particularly the way he introduced young and talented players — such as promising scrumhalf Baptiste Serin — only to take them out again. Players came and went, and he seemed at a loss how to move the team forward.

France opens its 2018 campaign at home to Ireland on Feb. 3 at Stade de France, with Brunel now tasked with revitalizing a flagging side.

While other countries have looked to outside help to improve their national sides, France remains anchored in tradition — arguably to its continued detriment.

Australian Eddie Jones has transformed England from the shabby team that under-performed at the 2015 World Cup to the world's second-best team behind New Zealand. England has won 22 of 23 test matches under his leadership and clinched back-to-back Six Nations titles. Jones was named world coach of the year for 2017.

New Zealander Vern Cotter changed Scotland from a conservative-minded, scrappy team into a confident one playing expansive rugby during his stint from 2014-17. Also, New Zealanders Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt have helped develop Wales and Ireland, respectively.

But France, for now, remains committed to the same formula — even though it is not working.

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