Saint-André, Philippe

Philippe Saint-André was one of the all-time great wing three-quarters to play for France. He won 69 caps, 33 of those as captain. When he signed terms with Gloucester, in the early days of professionalism, it aroused intense local and national interest. He only took the field for Gloucester for two seasons, but won a special place in the hearts of the Club’s fans, and then became Director of Rugby for three seasons. Later he would become the coach of France.

Philippe Saint-André was born on 19 April 1967, in Romans-sur-Isère. He initially played for the local Romans club, before joining Montferrand in 1988. He won his first French cap in May 1990, playing in the centre against Romania. Later that summer he was in the French team that won 28-19 in Australia, their first win in that country since 1972. He played in all the France games in the 1991 World Cup, ending in quarter-final defeat to England. Also in 1991 he scored a try against England after the French team started their attack from behind their try-line, a thrilling example of counter-attack rugby, which has been shown frequently in the years since as the supreme example of French flair.

Philippe had a run of 17 consecutive caps, including the 1993 Five Nations winning campaign. During the 1994 Five Nations, he replaced Olivier Roumat as captain. In the summer of 1994, he led France to an historic 2-0 series win in New Zealand, which included their first win over the All Blacks since 1986, and the first in New Zealand since 1979. In the second test, with France trailing 20-16 and pinned down, he fielded a kick and with his blistering speed counter attacked, leading to a try for Jean-Luc Sadourny. In 1995, Philippe again led France to a third successive victory over New Zealand, 22-15. His final cap was against South Africa in November 1997, whilst a Gloucester player. He scored 32 tries for France.

On 29 April 1997, it was announced that Tom Walkinshaw had bought the Gloucester club. Soon, Saint-André was unveiled as the club’s first major overseas signing. His willingness to come to Kingsholm might have been influenced by the fact that he had attended the astonishing 32-30 Premiership win over Leicester in early April. By the start of the 1997-98 season, Terry Fanolua and Richard Tombs were also new signings, and suddenly Gloucester had a back division to be reckoned with. In the first game of the season against Bristol, Philippe scored two tries, one of them the result of a brilliant diagonal run at immense speed. Later in the season his appearances were limited due to a troublesome quadricep muscle injury, but he still scored 12 tries from 19 appearances, and played in the team which beat Bedford to win the Cheltenham & Gloucester Cup.

The following season started well for Philippe with tries in successive league games against Richmond, West Hartlepool and Bath. However, results in general were patchy, especially away from home, and in February 1999, Richard Hill was dismissed from his post as Director of Rugby, and replaced by Philippe Saint-André. At first he tried to combine that post with continuing as a player, but found that too difficult, and played his last game on 4 April 1999 against Wasps. There was satisfaction in again beating Bedford to retain the Cheltenham & Gloucester Cup.

His first full season in charge was quite successful, with a final position of third in the Premiership. Junior Paramore was a major signing from Bedford. For the 2000-01 campaign, Philippe pulled off a masterstroke in bringing All Black, second row star Ian Jones, to the club. Unlike some overseas players anxious to inflate their pensions at the end of their careers, Ian bought straight into the Gloucester culture and deservedly became a great Kingsholm favourite. The league campaign that season resulted in a mediocre seventh place, but in their first season in the Heineken Cup, Gloucester made it to the semi-final, where they lost narrowly to Leicester.

There were two more signings for the 2001-02 season – an unknown fly-half and kicker, Ludovic Mercier, who had been playing in the French second division for Aurillac, and Henry Paul, a rugby league star. As usual Gloucester were very strong at home, but away form was again poor. Nevertheless, it came as a shock when, in February 2002, it was announced that Philippe had been removed from his position. Ironically, his final game in charge was an away win against Harlequins. There are photographs showing a tearful Saint-André, waving good-bye to the visiting Gloucester supporters who are applauding him. One wonders what Saint-André could have achieved had he been given more time. Perhaps his limited English made it difficult to get his ideas across to the players. However, the team he had put together won the Zurich Championship Final against Bristol at the end of the season.

Philippe returned to France, where he coached at Bourgoin from 2002-04. That included a return visit to Kingsholm in 2003, when the crowd hummed the Marseillaise in his honour, before Gloucester won 49-13, in the Heineken Cup clash. In 2004, he became Director of Rugby at Sale, with ex-Gloucester captain Kingsley Jones as coach. His first season in charge resulted in the club winning the European Challenge Cup. The next season was even better, and Sale won the Premiership, defeating Leicester in the final. Subsequent seasons were not so successful, and in 2009 Saint-André left to take over at Toulon.

From 2011-15 Philippe was the coach of France, but did not meet with much success, and following a 62-13 loss to New Zealand in October 2015, he was dismissed.

From 2017, he coached the Cameroon national side, and in February 2021 he was made director of rugby at Montpellier, the top flight French team. He took over with the side near the bottom of the Top 14, but results improved, and Philippe coached the team to victory in the European Challenge Cup final against Leicester.

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