Bernard Laporte and the future of the MHR: “With stars, we will fill the stadium”, “a foreign coach, but for what purpose ?”

Bernard Laporte and the future of the MHR: “With stars, we will fill the stadium”, “a foreign coach, but for what purpose ?”

Berrad Laporte, directeur du rugby du Montpellier Hérault Rugby MAXPPP – SYLVIE CAMBON

What if the MHR staff had left to stay in the event of remaining in the Top 14 ? This is the wish of rugby director Bernard Laporte, who promises a recruitment of "stars" to "make the supporters dream" and "fill the stadium". 

Bernard Laporte, the MHR rugby director, makes no secret of it: he sees far ahead for Montpellier. Three months after the induction of a new staff (Patrice Collazo, Vincent Etcheto, Antoine Battut, Christian Labit and Didier Bès) Laporte, the great architect, assures that he wants to continue the adventure with his major quintet. On one non-negotiable condition: ensuring maintenance in the Top 14, while the Hérault club currently occupies the place of the red lantern. "I'hope that we will succeed in our bet and work over time", confided "Bernie" at Noon Free. 

Bernard, on November 19, 2023, you formed a staff of odds and ends to save the MHR from relegation. Three months later… 

(He cuts.) I built this staff in 3 hours, not in 48 hours! I did that on Sunday between 8 and 11 hours…

Three months later, is the chemistry there ?  

First of all, this is not a staff made up of odds and ends. We were in an emergency, we needed people who were available and who got along well. This last point is important, because we are a small environment, a microcosm where half is angry with the other, we have to be careful, especially since a staff must show their unity with the players, that's the most important thing. If the speeches are not similar, it does not work. This is the first question I asked them: "Do you get along well with him ?" Either they already knew each other, or they had played together, or they respected each other, we were lucky that they got along well, that's not talent. As I told them, we are going on a commando operation, there is only one target to achieve: maintenance.

I like stupid guys, who have character, with whom you can argue

You have chosen Patrice Collazo, Vincent Etcheto, Christian Labit, Antoine Battut and Didier Bès. A beautiful collection of strong characters.

Yeah, but when I was training, I only liked that. I didn't like the softies, the cowards, you don't win with that. I like stupid guys, who have character, with whom you can argue in a good way. Tell yourself the truth, move forward, you only win with guys who have character.

In comparison, the MHR seemed timid and without personality when you took it over… 

We must convey our strength of character, that’s the challenge. This team had lost leaders, Ouedraogo, Guirado… Above all, it needed to find a smile and confidence again. 

Did we have to go through strong speeches ? 

It's not so much that telling each other truths. Where we are ? Who has to make an effort, who doesn't do enough ? What is our true level ? That's the most important thing: to have humility and telling each other truths. I assured the players that the truths would remain between us, within the four walls of the locker room, no one will ever know anything about it. When I talk to them, I talk like I talk to my children, I've always talked like that. I told them: “I want us to move forward, for you to be good, for you to be beautiful, for everyone to want you, that's it”. There were things to reframe.

Some (players) had become ghosts of themselves

It was also necessary that everyone found their place within the staff. 

Yes, it's never easy, it's not a given. The objective is to maintain oneself. Afterwards, the staff-player relationship, I have to say that it is going well, I see it. The looks, the attitudes… The staff gets along well, they work, they communicate well with the players, even when there are disagreements. That's what a staff is.

How does this affect the players ?  

There are guys who have found their level again and that’s nice. Some had become the ghost of themselves. I'm not saying it's their fault or that of the past. Saying bad things about previous coaches has never been my thing, it doesn't interest me. I told some players: 'I was told that you had a certain level, that's not true.' We are not here to criticize ourselves but to be self-critical. All this in the interest of the institution, of the club. We're all together. 

A foreign trainer, but for what purpose ? So that he doesn't even know what a Jiff is? ?

Despite your persistent position as bottom red, MHR's game has regained aggression and volume. But success eludes you… 

I valid. We did a debriefing during our internship (last week, near Saint-Tropez). I don't care about comparison with others, I'm past the age of saying whether we are better than others or not. What I want is for the team to evolve and I'm in the middle, I watch it, I give my opinion. I see that the team is developing well, the level has gone up a notch, we have more volume, but we lack efficiency. We should have taken the bonus against Toulon and Pau, in La Rochelle, we should have won in Lyon… That's six points left on the way, that counts!

The staff left to stay ? 

President Altrad has assigned the staff for six months. And after ? The names of Joe Schmidt and Ian Foster were mentioned for next season…  

A foreign coach, but what for ? So that he doesn't even know what a Jiff is (Player from French training) ? Me , I never talked about a foreign coach. Complicity is not about training, because we train in the same way in Bordeaux, in Toulouse or elsewhere.  The big question is how you build a high-level team with your payroll ? But our team was completely unbalanced. We have to find this balance between the payroll and the non-jiffs, it's as simple as that. But it can't be done in six months, it's a long-term job, because players are under contract. I am convinced that we will move forward well, I am very, very optimistic. 

I hope that we will succeed in our bet and work over time. This is the objective, we must build.

Listening to you, the staff seems to be here to stay ?

Well I hope so! I hope that we will succeed in our bet and work over time. This is the objective, we must build. I know what it's like, when I arrived at Toulon, they had finished 8th in the championship, OK ? We parted ways with players, we recruited new ones. #39;others, we built an armada. Two years after my arrival, we became European champions. 

For the moment, you have very good players but no stars… 

Max (Guazzini, ex-president of Stade Français) and Mourad (Boudjellal, ex-president of RC Toulon) told me the same thing: You need stars to develop, guys who make you dream. The supporters have to come for them (the stars), to see guys score tries, make breakthroughs, kill guys in scrums, not for me, because I don't play. That was Max's strength, you have to rely on guys with a strong reputation. Boudjellal did the same thing and built his club like that. He relaunched the RCT, which was in Pro D2, by recruiting Umaga and Gregan! It created an electric shock.

If you want the fan to come to your house, you have to make him dream

You assign yourself the same mission in Montpellier?

Of course that's the mission, to have a big team and fill this stadium. Even in the street, people call me, it’s nice. In Paris, I honestly didn't experience that.

The MHR does not, however, shine through its passion for identity.

It's obvious. I would say that we are straddling Toulon and the Stade Français, between rugby experienced as a religion and rugby having little notoriety. I have experienced both, but I am convinced that if we build a big team, if we win, if we make people dream by scoring tries, by developing the game, we will fill the stadium. Little by little, I realize that there is a rugby culture in Montpellier. I put myself in the place of the supporter. In five years, you only have one good year (2022 French champion). In addition, in Montpellier, there is football, handball… If you want the fan to come to your home, you have to make him dream.

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