Guy Noves said his only priority was the truth about his dismissal ahead of an employment tribunal in Toulouse 14 months after he was sacked as coach of France, he told a French national newspaper.
Noves – who turned 65 in early February – is claiming €2.9million in back pay on his reported €800,000-a-year contract, plus 1,800 hours overtime and damage to his reputation.
He has been preparing for his big day at the tribunal for some time. In a recent interview with Le Monde, he said: “For 14 months, I’ve been preparing for the fight of my life. It’s coming. That’s all I can think about.
“They hurt me, and they’re going to have to explain themselves.”
The tribunal, on Thursday, could scarcely come at a worse time for Bernard Laporte, the beleaguered President of the Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR).
The dreadful start to the 2019 Six Nations by France’s senior men’s team following a 2018 for which the word ‘dismal’ could have been invented; the marked increase in volume of questions over the national coach and his staff; and rumours of – another – player mutiny would be enough to have even the strongest rugby union president weeping quietly into his breakfast juice.
Laporte removed Noves from the France coach’s job after the November internationals in 2017, for which he had named nearly 70 players but failed to engineer a win in four matches. He left with a record of seven wins from 21 internationals – and his term ended with a run of six defeats and a draw.
Replacement Jacques Brunel, now has three wins from 13 in just over a year in the job. France’s last victory was against Argentina in November. Before that, it was England in the 2018 Six Nations.
The relationship between Laporte, elected President of the FFR in December 2016, and Noves had been, at best, frosty since Laporte was France coach and Noves in charge at Toulouse.
At first, Laporte had tried to insist everything in the Marcoussis garden was rosy. He took to Twitter to say: “Guy Noves has done a remarkable job as head of the French team. Without a shadow of a doubt I believe that today he’s the best coach for the national team. Rest assured, Noves will remain as coach.”
That apparent confidence didn’t last. Within a year, and despite further public displays of mutual appreciation, Noves was replaced by Brunel.
The former coach was later quick to question the motives behind his dismissal. He believes Laporte had plans to oust him before he was elected President of the FFR. In an interview with Le Monde shortly after he lost his job, he said: “It wasn’t my incompetence that drove me out of the federation.”
His lawyers added in a statement around the same time: “It is constant that Mr Bernard Laporte carried in the context of the electoral campaign that led him to become President of the FFR, the information that he would terminate Mr Guy Noves’ commitment as soon as he was elected, even if he had, before that deadline, sent a contrary message.”
Noves said he had learned of his removal via the media, and vowed to fight serious misconduct charges levelled against him by the FFR. One of the key claims in the allegations was that he, along with lieutenants Yannick Bru and Jeff Dubois – who have since settled their disputes with the FFR – failed to liaise with Top 14 clubs.
“I cannot understand why I will never be able to achieve the goals we set in 2016 when I took office,” Noves said at the time.
Coaching the national side was supposed to be the icing on the career cake for the former Toulouse boss, who was already the most successful club manager in the world when he left the Pink City for Marcoussis.
He told Le Monde his dream job had turned into a ‘little death’. Now, he says: “I have one priority: that the truth comes out.”
The serious misconduct charge – apparently for failing to face, let alone ease, deep-seated tensions between the national set-up and demanding, cash-rich Top 14 clubs – hurt him particularly, he said. “I don’t want people to say to themselves, when they see me: ‘What the hell did he do wrong?’. I don’t want this question mark.”
He was accused of failing to liaise with Top 14 clubs. Speaking in January 2018, he spoke of his surprise. “I have always opened up [France training ground] Marcoussis to the whole of French rugby whenever possible.
“Bernard Laporte seems to be saying I am responsible for a lack of relations between the clubs and the Federation and that they must now be re-established as a matter of urgency. This is perfectly false.”
He added: “When Laporte was coach [of France], I didn’t see him at Toulouse, even though the club was the main provider of players to the French national team.”
The tribunal sits in Toulouse – where Noves is a local hero – on Thursday. But a decision is not expected for several weeks. Even after a ruling is made, either side could appeal against it – suggesting that there is a long way to go before the case of Guy Noves v FFR is concluded.