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Clock ticking on Brunel's tenure as World Cup looms

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By Reuters
Clock ticking on Brunel's tenure as World Cup looms
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup warm-up match - France v Italy - Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France - August 30, 2019 France head coach Jacques Brunel before the match REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes   -   Copyright  GONZALO FUENTES(Reuters)

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) – Jacques Brunel has had two years to turn around ailing French fortunes but with the World Cup just a week away he enters the tournament having been shorn of much of his authority in the wake of a string of poor results.

France have finished fourth in the last two Six Nations and under Brunel have won only seven of 19 matches, managing just one performance of real quality against a top side when they beat England in the championship in 2018.

One of 65-year-old Brunel’s main tasks was to find a stable halfback pairing but he has tried out eight different combinations so far. His predecessor Guy Noves, France’s most decorated club coach, had tried out nine.

In terms of who will start their first World Cup game against Argentina on Sept. 21, Brunel has yet to show his hand.

Antoine Dupont is first choice at scrumhalf but who his partner at flyhalf will be – Toulouse team mate Romain Ntamack or Camille Lopez – remains unclear.

Named to the post by federation president Bernard Laporte, who had him as his assistant with France from 2002-2007, Brunel has come under fire from several players, including Lopez.

He is now assisted by former France scrumhalf and ex-Toulon coach Fabien Galthie, who will take over after the World Cup.

Asked what changes had been made since Galthie was brought on board near the end of the season, Dupont hinted that the former France captain was already in charge.

“We’ve changed a lot of things that were being done in the last two years,” the 22-year-old Dupont said.

“During the meetings, the boss remains Jacques Brunel. But on the technical and tactical parts, Fabien takes over.”

Brunel, though, still has the backing of Laporte, who sacked Noves in late 2017.

“The one talking to the players is Jacques Brunel,” Laporte said last month. “He went to get Fabien, I did not impose Galthie on him. They know each other very well.”

Brunel, who also coached Italy from 2011 to 2016, appears to be in a no-win situation at the World Cup.

If the side fail to get out of Pool C, which also features Argentina, England, Tonga and the United States, the departing Brunel will surely take the blame.

Success in Japan would likely be credited to Galthie.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)