England coach Stuart Lancaster will hope not to emulate Bernard Laporte's attempts to motivate his team before the opening match of the World Cup - France lost to Argentina after a motivational speech backfired
By Paul Eddison
Stuart Lancaster will have been preparing for the opening game of the World Cup against Fiji since he was given the England job full-time back in 2012.
While he has already had his contract extended, a nightmare tournament could see his position come under pressure, and the opening night is one place where he can’t afford for things to go wrong.
Fiji are an improving team, and have enough firepower to cause England problems out wide, but Lancaster should be confident that his players will get the job done.
Eight years ago however, France found out that the opening match on home soil isn’t always plain sailing, and the struggles of Bernard Laporte’s side are a lesson to Lancaster.
The England coach has always been very keen to use inspirational sports figures to motivate his players, former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss, and Jessica Ennis’s coach Toni Minichello are among those who have been invited to talk to the squad in the past.
When he was in charge of les Bleus, Laporte took a rather different approach, with catastrophic results.
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Prior to taking on Argentina at the Stade de France in the opener in 2007, Laporte gathered his team around in the dressing room and got one of the players to read out a famous letter from resistance fighter Guy Moquet.
Moquet was a teenager who was captured by the Nazis during the Second World War and would later become a symbol of the French resistance.
One of the reasons for that was a letter he wrote to his parents just before he was executed by the Germans. In it he said his goodbyes and begged them to be strong.
“My darling Mummy, my adored brother, my much loved Daddy, I am going to die! What I ask of you, especially you Mummy, is to be brave. I am, and I want to be, as brave as all those who have gone before me,” begins the letter.
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Laporte’s hope was to inspire his team and fire them up to give everything for their country, as Moquet had done more than 60 years earlier.
Instead the player reading the letter is believed to have become so overcome with emotion that he burst into tears, and rather than getting the team up for the game, the French completely lost their focus.
Up against an Argentine side which posed a greater threat than that of Fiji on Friday, France fell behind very early and never recovered, losing what is still the most memorable opening game of a tournament to date.
Laporte clearly didn’t find the solution, because France went onto lose the rematch with the Pumas in the third place play-off.
England fans will hope that Lancaster’s pre-match routine this evening produces very different results at Twickenham.