Paradise found for France coach Janeczek

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 March, 2009, 12:00am

France coach Thierry Janeczek has been coming to the Sevens since 1986 and declares: 'I'll be here for the next 20 years as well.'

The 49-year-old Janeczek, whose French side were knocked out in the Plate semi-finals by Tonga, describes Hong Kong as 'a paradise for rugby players'.

The flamboyant former flanker hadn't played Sevens until his first trip to Hong Kong 23 years ago with the French Barbarians. They made it all the way to the final before losing to a New Zealand side who included All Black greats Zinzan Brooke and Wayne Shelford.

'A week before that trip, I was badly cut below my lip in a French club game and needed 25 stitches but one of my teammates still urged me to go,' Janeczek (pictured) said. 'Once I tried it, I knew it was the game for me. It feels like I was reborn at the Hong Kong Sevens.'

In the 1992 tournament, playing for the full France national side, he faced Sevens legend Waisale Serevi as the French were knocked out by eventual champions Fiji on a waterlogged pitch that resembled 'a swimming pool' according to Janeczek.

'The water was so deep you couldn't even put the ball into the scrum,' he said. 'Serevi still has a video-tape of the game.'

Janeczek was capped three times by France in 15s, playing alongside the likes of Serge Blanco and Philippe Sella in the 1980s. But his opportunities were restricted by the presence of inspirational former national captain Jean-Pierre Rives, another flanker.

With his playing days behind him, Janeczek became France's Sevens coach in 1996. He's been a regular fixture in Hong Kong ever since, with the exception of the 2003 tournament, which France skipped because of Sars.

His first memory of Hong Kong was a surprisingly close-range view of people in small boats in Aberdeen when he flew into the old airport in 1986. Today, he knows the city well enough to find the best dim sum and Peking duck.

Without access to his country's best Sevens players and an ever-changing squad, Janeczek has struggled to string together consistent results. But he predicts that France will become a more formidable force now that recently appointed rugby federation president Pierre Camou has promised to make Sevens more of a priority. 'They'll probably still boo us here in Hong Kong,' he laughs. 'We love it, though. It makes it more of a challenge.'