11 Jun 2011

Hats off to Guy Novès



If you live outside of France, and especially of you are not particuarly interested in the glorious game of rugby football (rugby union football to be more precise), then you will not have heard of this man. He has been the manager and/or chief trainer of the Stade Toulousain rugby club for the past 18 years. Previously he had played 13 years for the same club (left winger), winning  the French championship in 1985 and 1986 with Toulouse, as well as being capped several times for France.

Novès was born the grandson of a Spanish refugee from the civil war and his father was a manual worker. He began his sporting career in athletics and held a French junior record over 1200 meters, before taking up rugby at the age of 20. He is still, aged 57, obviously very fit and apparently does a lot of bicycling.

But the real life achievement of Novès has been that of associate and then chief trainer of Toulouse, certainly the most successful rugby club in Europe of the past 30 years. He was voted, in 2010, the best European trainer of the past 15 years and his record speaks for himself. Under his guidance, Toulouse has won the European championship 4 times and the French championship 8 times, having been in the final 10 times. And he has always taken his team at least to the semi-finals. Nobody has ever done better than that, and probably never will. He is clearly not only a great tactical master, but also a fine manager of men. People talk of him as the next trainer for the French national team and many, including myself, wonder why he is not already in just that position.

I do not know the man, but I bumped into him on one occasion, and the anecdote shows that he is also a great sportsman. The team I support, Stade Français Paris, played Toulouse in a championship semi-final a few years ago. The match took place in Lyon and it was foggy that day. Toulouse won the game, quite narrowly, and mainly because a penalty kicked by David Skrela, who was the Paris fly-half at the time, was not allowed by the goal referees. As I was sitting right behind the posts, I could see that it had actually gone between them. The referees' mistake cost us the game. Shit happens! Coming out of the after-match reception, and on my way to catch a late train back to Paris, my path crossed that of Novès who was coming from the changing rooms to the reception. I congratulated him on Toulouse's victory. His reply was: "we didn't deserve that victory, you did. I hope that you have a safe journey home".

Hats off to somebody who is always interesting to observe and listen to, who is humble and yet has his convictions, who sticks to his guns and yet adapts constantly to changing situations, and who is loyal to his players and staff. I know that I will be berated for saying that he is the best, and I agree that the expression is fairly meaningless, so I won't say it!

By the way, Toulouse won their 18th title and the 9th under Novès' training era, just a week ago, quite narroywly defeating Montpellier in a very taught, defensive and unspectacular final by 15 points to 10. Finals can be like that!