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Path of most Resistance: French coach takes inspiration from war hero


Brendan Gallagher

Philippe Saint-Andre believes his grandfather's war-time courage, pride and stoicism can act as an motivator to France, writes Brendan Gallagher.

Emotional attachment … French coach Philippe Saint-Andre.

Emotional attachment … French coach Philippe Saint-Andre. Photo: AFP

Up in the small and otherwise unremarkable mountain village of La Chapelle-en-Vercors 64 kilometres south-west of Grenoble lies the Ecole Primaire Publique Philippe Saint-Andre, daytime home to 69 boisterous French infants.

It is named after a French hero, a man who fought like a dog for his country, before being shot dead by the Germans along with 16 compatriots in a nearby mountain cave one July morning in 1944.

Until now France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has not spoken of his grandfather - probably a combination of modesty and reticence - but over a quiet lunchtime coffee at the France training camp in Marcoussis this week he revealed that, since taking the job of coach, it is always in his mind: the humility and the pride.

''That school is named after a far greater man than I will ever be,'' he says. ''I am always embarrassed when people assume it must be a tribute to me. No, that school commemorates a proper hero and a man who I never knew but love, a man who inspires me always.

''I have always carried his story with me but I started to think more deeply about him when I was appointed as France coach after the World Cup. For a very rare moment I had thinking time and a chance to assess what I wanted from the France team I am privileged to coach. My first thought was my grandfather and his comrades in the Vercors maquisards and their great qualities which I want my teams to embrace.

'' I want to produce a great XV of France but I want a little more than that. I want a group of good people that France can look up to …

''I don't want to hear us complaining about defeat and referees and showing arrogance in victory or being bad losers. I want us showing complete passion, courage and professionalism always.

''Many people in France are having a difficult time in this world, but my grandfather's generation suffered beyond imagination. When you are a sportsman being paid for doing what you love, you are lucky. Be stoic. Life could be worse.

''It has been busy in the Six Nations but I have spoken a little to the players about this, we will talk more in the summer. I did not go into the exact details of my grandfather but I explained that the virtues I want from a French rugby team are those shown by him and his friends. Some of the players seemed to know the story a little and were very receptive.

''Philippe Saint-Andre snr was a member of the French Resistance from the start of hostilities until his summary execution by an SS patrol. La Chapelle-en-Vercors and surrounding villages were at the epicentre of that defiance and there are scores of small monuments and wooden crosses to the fallen on lonely mountain roads. They all read: 'Mort pour la France'.

''Vercors was the only part of France that never submitted to German rule or opted for peace and my grandfather was at the very heart of that. He was the mayor, already director of the school and he played wing for the local rugby club when it all started.

''For months on end he would live high in the mountains, sleep in the pine forests or our limestone caves with his comrades. They lived like animals. Sometimes in the middle of the night he would suddenly arrive at home for a few hours to see his wife and my father Serge who was very young, just two years old.

''Then one night in 1944, soon after the Allied forces had landed in the north, the Germans sent 20,000 troops into the region looking to flush out the Resistance - they had seen French flags fly from our mountain tops … My grandfather and 15 others were sleeping in a remote limestone cave.

''It was very early on July 25. The Germans discovered them and shot everybody dead in the cave. An execution. Then they went to the village of La Chapelle and burned everything … including my grandmother's house. She had nothing left except a few pictures. Nothing.

''The village was awarded the Ordre de la Liberation and its highest honour, the gold medal, but they're mountain people and rarely speak of these things … When I do it makes me very proud and emotional. It is a story sportsmen should listen to.''

As we part, Saint-Andre is reminded that much of the French Resistance work around Vercors was co-ordinated in London by Sir Colin McVean Gubbins, the head of Special Operations Executive who was said to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming's M in the James Bond books.

Saint-Andre breaks into a smile for the first time. ''So really my grandfather 'worked' for the boss of James Bond? Incroyable.''

Telegraph, London

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
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Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
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Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
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Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
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Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
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Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
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Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
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Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
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