Grandfather’s heroism in Saint-Andre’s DNA
France coach tries to instil the example of his Resistance fighter ancestor into his players
Pirate Irwin in Paris
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre's hugely successful career so far has been due in large part to the principles he has taken from his grandfather, who was executed by the Nazis during the second world war, he says.
His grandfather, also Philippe, was mayor of the small mountainous village of La Chapelle-en-Vercors in southeast France, but on July 25, 1944, he along with 15 other members of the French Resistance were discovered in the cave they were hiding in and shot.
He left behind a widow - who his grandson says was like a second mother to him - and a son Serge, then aged 18 months old and who is the present mayor of the village.
The village had to be completely rebuilt after the Nazis punished the residents by throwing everyone out of their houses and burning them to the ground.
While the village was honoured following the liberation of France with the highest honour - the gold medal of the Ordre de la Liberation - and the local school was named in honour of his grandfather, Saint-Andre says it is not something the descendants of those families like to talk about much.
He admits that he does not like to talk about it much publicly despite plenty of requests from the media to do so.
"Regarding my grandfather it's quite personal," he said. "It's inside me, it's in my DNA."
When willing to talk about it, he is keen to stress the personal qualities that the resistants possessed.
"I was brought up with these stories and obviously July 25 is an important day and I like to go back when I can make it," he said.
"The people, though, coming from the mountains don't speak about those days much with outsiders, they just think it's natural this fighting spirit!
"I spent all my childhood with my grandmother, hence why she is like a second mother to me, and listening to the story about my grandfather instilled a certain pride in me," added the 69-times capped former France wing and captain.
He is keen to transfer the values of his grandfather to the French squad, something he has been doing gently since he replaced Marc Lievremont following the 2011 World Cup final, where the All Blacks beat the French 8-7.
"I have tried to impress on the players that it is fundamental to have pride, show respect and also be polite," said Saint-Andre, speaking just over a week before he leads the French into his second Six Nations tournament.
"In France, we have started to forget those important characteristics. I tell them it is important to have pride in the French jersey and I have also tried to put more structure into their lives such as punctuality.
"We are privileged and when I hear the guys complain I feel it reflects that we are in an overspoiled world.
"They should realise how lucky they are. I feel in today's society we have forgotten these basic principles, which my grandfather and his comrades possessed.
"At the base of it I believe that if you're a good man you will be a good player."
Saint-Andre said his grandfather and his fellow resistants had all the best there was to be found in humanity.
"They had courage and they knew how to take responsibility which is essential for the players to possess, too," he said. "It's also important not to be too boastful, rather to be humble."
Saint-Andre, who cut his teeth in coaching in England, starting at Gloucester before spells with Bourgoin then back in England with Sale and finally Toulon, said he did not know if his message had a receptive audience.
"The message has been transmitted and I don't know if it has been accepted. I am quite intransigent and I don't want big heads. My philosophy is that if you don't give you don't receive. The players have to give 100 per cent otherwise the team won't function and for me the spirit within the team is primary."
Saint-Andre said every time he went back to the village it provoked strong emotions.
"I feel something when I go back, it is something I have in me," he said. "I was educated in it. Life moves on, but it is important not to forget about where you come from."