« Discovering Fiji’s Rugbymen in France » - Interview with Franck Boivert

The Embassy of France launches its new section, “Discovering Fiji’s Rugbymen in France”! This section will gather photos and exclusive interviews of players, families, coaches, and every person who plays a role in rugby. The interview with Franck Boivert, french and future coach of Fiji’s national team, will "kick off" this new section. Read on for this exclusive interview!

« Discovering Fiji’s Rugbymen in France »

Interview with Franck Boivert

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Photo: Franck Boivert

Q: Hello Mr Boivert, thank you for agreeing to meet with us for this interview today. So you are the new National Technical Director and Selector for the Fiji Rugby Team, is that correct?

A: Well, I haven’t started yet…but yes, indeed, I will be coordinating the selection of the French national team…errr…Fiji national team, sorry! What a slip of the tongue! (laughes). I will have to oversee the training and technique of all the national teams, as well as find and develop players.

Q: For both 15’s rugby and 7’s?

A: Yes, both.

Q: You have a pretty strong accent. Which part of France are you from?

A: I am from Perpignan (laughes).

Q: When did you start playing rugby?

A: You mean, when I was a child? Ohhlà…I don’t remember not playing rugby! I lived in a small village near Perpignan, and all the kids were playing rugby. It was part of the culture… My father played rugby, my uncle played rugby, my grand-fathers played rugby! (laughes) I don’t know what else I could do.

Q: How did you become a coach?

A: This will take a while to explain! (laughes). Well, in Sciences-Po Aix (my university), we did not have a rugby coach and as I was the only one to play in first division, my friends said « you are going to be the coach ». I wanted to do a good job so I did all the coaching diplomas I could so that I could train Sciences-Po’ well. So we could win the championship…and especially beat Sciences-Po Paris! (laughes). Anyway, after my master’s degree, I wanted to do a PhD. The year before doing the PhD, two Americans who had played in Perpignan invited me to come to Los Angeles at the end of the season to coach a team there. Of course, it was an irresistible invitation, a great opportunity to travel, to discover the world. I said to myself «Fine, I’ll do that for one or two years, before returning to the “real world” »…and that was it! The beginning of a great adventure. After that, I got really into it. Things went well and I had a lot of success as a coach…that’s how I became a professional coach.

Q: Have you been a professional player?

A: No, when I played, there was no such thing as ‘professionalism’. Professionalism was introduced in 1995 and by that time I was already a coach! (laughes)

Q: What clubs have you coached?

A: Apart from Sciences-Po ? (laughes). I coached in Los Angeles, a club called “Eagle Rock”… after that, UCLA, the University club hired me. Then, I went to Aspen in Colorado, and then to San Francisco to train a very famous club there at that time, “The Bats of San Francisco”. It was like a «collection» of international players, from all over the world. They recruited me as their Head Coach. After that I was hired by Stanford University, where I worked for 18 years.
And then, out of the blue, the Embassy of France in Fiji called me to head a rugby development program at the University of South Pacific…that was from 1997 to 2003. Later, in 2003, the same Embassy signed an agreement with the Fiji Rugby Union for me to become their technical director, which I was for 2 years. And lastly, I was hired by the International Rugby Board as technical consultant for small South Pacific Countries (Cook Islands, French Polynesia etc).

Q: What are the challenges for a coach (integrating into a new group, gaining confidence from the players etc)?

A: I believe, as a player and a trainer, that the most important things are knowledge, skill and respect for players. When a coach involves the players’ and forces them to think for themselves, he automatically gains their respect. When a player knows that the coach is very capable, he will inevitably respect him. Personally, I have never had any such problems so far with any new team.
There is also the speech you have to give to the players…It’s a bit of psychological manipulation! (laughes). You have to be a little bit of a psychologist, to know when you have to shout to motivate your team, and when you have to be calm. It’s a different approach for each team, for each player, and of course you will not deliver the same speech each time. It depends on what is happening on the field.

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Franck Boivert with the "Bats of San Francisco", in the late eighties
Photo: Franck Boivert

Q: How do you create a team, a training schedule? Do you have a special method you use? Is there a “Boivert Method”?

A: I was very lucky. Before moving to California, I had some French rugby training, thanks to two of my mentors, Pierre Villepreux and Georges Costes. I also had a great coach in Perpignan, André Quilis. They were all gym teachers who had a profound knowledge of the “game”. Their own training was very comprehensive and based on intelligent game strategy. In the US, I was a lot more exposed to the American training methods, which is more specific, focussed and very practical. We also had visits from a lot of international coaches from the South Pacific – from New Zealand, Australia etc. I found all their methods very interesting so I studied the effectiveness and efficiency of each of these techniques - the French, the British and the American and came up with a usable combination that became my « own style ».

Q: What are the next objectives, the future challenges for the Fiji rugby team?

A: Everybody is thinking of the next World Cup. Unfortunately, I believe this will be a little too soon, because there are terrible technical deficiencies in Fiji rugby, especially in the make-up and training of the line-up of the front row.

The top priority will therefore be the forming and training of the front row to the highest level. Unfortunately, it is an aspect of the game that will take a lot of time to change, because we will have to change Fiji’s game culture. We will have to change a lot of bad habits that players and coaches here in Fiji have. I think this is the first priority.
The second is to modernise the training and competition structure of the Fiji Rugby Union in order to be more internationally competitive.
And finally the third – and it is specifically for this reason that I have been hired – is to harness the natural talent of the Fijian players so they play a very « open » game, with a lot of free flow of the ball and running of the players. It is what journalists or poets call « the Fijian Flair ». It pops up when you least expect it in different situations this Fijian talent…it is an amazing agility, speed and creative athletic ability that is absolutely fabulous…but unfortunately those qualities have so far been suppressed by stringent Australian and New Zealand training methods that have annulled the natural quality of Fiji’s game. So this is what we’re going to work on: reviving that natural flair and using it efficiently. And to do this, we have to go back to basics and rebuild. This is where most of the work is.

Q: What do you think are the differences between Fijian and French rugby?

A: The first difference is the level of professionalism…across the board – the organisation, the management, the structure, everything! There is no comparison.
There is also a big cultural difference. Here, rugby is based on respect. We used to have that before in France…but I think it has now completely disappeared. In Perpignan, we used to play for the «jersey», for our Catalan identity. In Fiji, people play for their province, for their families, for their chief. In France, nowadays, it’s a cruel world, like in « Dallas » (laughes). We look at money and other material things first before the thrill of the game. It is another world, it is the professional world, as it is in the United States…you have to accept it and deal with it, and it is the coach’s responsibility to know how to handle these kinds of new situations. The spirit of rugby, the spirit of game, therefore, is completely different! In the “Top 14” (the French league), you can easily see that teams play to win, and not to enjoy the game except maybe Toulouse, Montpellier and one or two other teams, who seem to enjoy the game. In Fiji, enjoying the game comes first!
There is also the idea of a battle. There is a stereotype that “specialists” on TV often use to describe players from the Pacific Islands and it always makes me very angry. They say that “players from the Pacific Islands are not fighters”, “they don’t like to play in the cold or in the rain”… All of this is absolutely false! Fijian players are fabulous fighters! And if they don’t believe me, I invite them to come with me and I will show them what a real fight is, what the real preparation for a fight is! Whether Fijians have to play in the rain or not, it makes no difference as it is always raining in Suva! (laughes). We need to move away from such negative stereotyping that “Fijian players only think of having a good time”...in fact that is exactly what is so wonderful here! They manage to have fun, keep the enjoyment in the game, and at the same time, perform like warriors!
When you go to watch a game in Fiji, there is a real feeling of happiness, of joy. When you go to Perpignan, Toulon, spectators insult the team, the players, and the referee. There is hate, nastiness: nothing like what we have in Fiji! In this case, who is more civilised?
When I invite French coaches here, they can not believe it, they are astonished by the atmosphere, by the fact that everything is good-natured, genuine, in comparison with what you, unfortunately, see too often in French stadiums.
For example, I setup a learning program with Clermont-Ferrand in Nadroga, and two technicians from Clermont came to spend 15 days here. They were flabbergasted! At the end of the Under-20s match there was a lot of respect, the two teams shook hands, they sang together… whereas in Clermont, at the last Under-20s match, there was a free-for-all brawl!! It really is an exceptional experience that, thank God, is completely different.
Excuse-me, that was long! I really got carried away! (laughes)

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Franck Boivert coaching the "Under 20" Fiji Team
Photo: Franck Boivert

Q: What is your best memory as a coach?

A: With Stanford, when we beat Berkeley. There is a longstanding rivalry between those two universities, and Berkeley has a phenomenal rugby program: they recruit all the best rugby players in the country, and even from abroad…South Africa etc. They are unbeatable. In fact, they are the champions of the United States “Ad Vitam Aeternam”. And, one year, thanks to the small group that we had, we beat them. It was an extraordinary achievement.

Q: What is your best memory as a supporter?

A: When USAP (Perpignan Club) won the French Title.

Q: Your favourite player?

A: Joe Maso.

Q: Your favourite team?

A : Toulouse. And of course, USAP (laughes), for different reasons. But for the game, Toulouse. And soon, Fiji! (laughes). And of course Stanford as well.

Q: Do you see yourself returning to France?

A: Yes, of course. That’s where my family is, where my roots are.

Q: Do you speak Fijian?

A: A little bit.

Q: Will you train your players in Fijian?

A: Sometimes, there are some Fijian expressions that say exactly what you want to put across about rugby. But most of the time, it will be in English… which is good for the players too, because they will have to speak in English when they play abroad. But sometimes, I will use Fijian, yes.

Q: Where do you see yourself in a ten years time?

A: Home, in the Corbières (part of Southern France).

Q: Thank you very much Mr Boivert!

A: Thank you!

Published on 06/03/2012

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