Agar hoping crash course in French will help World Cup task

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IT draws a genuine look of uncertainty when Richard Agar is asked what his schoolboy French was like.

“I’m not sure if I can remember,” he says. “It seems an awful long time ago. I think at school I had my mind on other things.”

Would that be rugby or women? “Probably a bit of both...!”

However, though it was not really too crucial during those formative years at St Wilfrid’s Catholic High School in North Featherstone, being able to speak some French is now very much back on the lesson plan.

The Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ head coach has, of course, been appointed as the France national boss in readiness for the World Cup later this year.

He is currently in Perpignan ready for the West Yorkshire club’s game this evening with Catalan Dragons, from which the bulk of his Les Tricolores squad will be taken. Agar is utilising any spare time over there to meet with people who will form the backbone of those plans but, before he departed, he explained a little about engrossing himself into the role without neglecting his prime duties at Belle Vue.

“I flirted with it (French) a couple of times and bought the CDs a few years ago to have another crack,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“I didn’t really take to it then but Outwood Grange School have kindly provided me with a native-speaking French tutor and I’m going to design a course where, though it won’t be able to take me to the post office, it will certainly help me in rugby terms.

“Of course, I’m not going to lie and expect to be able to deliver video reviews or take press conferences in French by the time September comes but I want to see it through.

“I’ve a university degree in high performance coaching to finish off in May so I am busy but I’ve always been a busy person who gets very bored very easily.

“I also owe it to the job though; just waltzing in there and expecting everyone to work around me is the wrong attitude.

“I think I owe it to be able to converse in French and it’s something I can keep to take forward. Who knows where I might get to use it in the future.”

Catalan traditionally give all visiting sides a fiery welcome at Stade Gilbert Brutus but Agar may find himself in the unusual position of being heralded when Trinity step out there tonight.

“I’m expecting the red carpet, a glass of red when I get off the plane and all the best training venues for Wakefield,” he smiles.

“In all seriousness, because we’re going a day earlier this year – on the Thursday – I’m going to get a period to catch up with (France assistant) Jerome Guisset, (manager) Gilles Dumas plus (president) Carlos Zalduendo.

“Hopefully, post-game I’ll also get an opportunity to see guys who are considered senior players in the French group too.”

Some of the conversations will surround whether or not France are prepared to introduce the likes of Catalan’s Dream Team scrum-half Scott Dureau, the Australian who could qualify now through residency.

Agar, 41, is keen to gauge French opinion on that matter before making any decisions but acknowledges, if France are going to qualify out of the ‘Group of Death ‘ that includes New Zealand, Samoa and Papua New Guinea, they have to addresses issues regarding key playmakers.

“If you look at Catalan now the spine of their team is Brent Webb, Leon Pryce, Scott Dureau and Ian Henderson,” he says. “That ain’t going to be there (in the World Cup). How we fill those positions and integrate guys from the elite French competition – as their season finishes May and pre-season start in July – is important.

“We want to make sure the identity is France and not just an extension of Catalan Dragons.

“But moving forward long-term I suppose the utopia for France is to try and get another team in Super League.

“I don’t think anyone can deny the Dragons have been a major success and added a hell of a lot,” he said.

“How they’re going to squeeze them in isn’t an argument for me but they’re an RL nation.”

Agar is not new to international rugby league; the ex-Hull FC boss coached England Academy, ironically against France in 2006 and New Zealand a year later, while he had agreed in principle to be England Knights coach under Tony Smith and then Steve McNamara only for the scheme not to initially materialise.

Trinity winger Ben Cockayne – hoping to tonight rid the pain of Sunday’s narrow 18-16 loss against leaders Huddersfield Giants – knows the French have got a valuable commodity.

“Rich’s man-management skills are second to none,” he said.

“His gameplans are working a treat and he’s just a rugby league nut; I’d imagine he’s always watching it.”

Indeed, tonight, it won’t just be his impressive Wildcats he will be avidly watching.