Hostage negotiator to help Scotland rugby team

Coach Vern Cotter hopes a motivational speaker will give Scotland mental strength. Picture: Jane Barlow

Coach Vern Cotter hopes a motivational speaker will give Scotland mental strength. Picture: Jane Barlow

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HE HAS trained high stakes ­negotiators at the National ­Gendarmerie Intervention Group – the French equivalent of the SAS which was involved in trying to talk down the ­Charlie Hebdo hostage takers.

Now the Scottish rugby team has hired top French negotiations expert Eric Blondeau to train players to make decisions they hope will propel them to victory in matches during the Rugby World Cup.

Hostages are freed after terror attacks in Paris earlier this year. Picture: Getty

Hostages are freed after terror attacks in Paris earlier this year. Picture: Getty

Head coach Vern Cotter has asked Mr Blondeau, who worked with him at French rugby team Clermont Auvergne, to visit the Scottish players at their Font Romeu training base, where they will head later this week.

The team checked in for their training camp yesterday – 100 days before Scotland’s opening match in the tournament against Japan in Gloucester.

Head coach Vern Cotter said: “There’s a chap who’ll be coming to meet us in France called Eric Blondeau, who has worked in hostage negotiations and with the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN), which is the French SAS equivalent.

“He has a lot of experience in traumatic, or let’s say difficult, decision-making situations and he’ll come and speak to a few of the players.”

He added: “I used him at ­Clermont. He’ll be periodically coming in and having a talk with myself. I met with him a month or so ago and we spoke about the challenges we have ahead. He’s very good at throwing up ideas.”

On his LinkedIn page, Mr Blondeau states that he has trained both negotiators at French special forces branch the GIGN, as well as French ambassadors and consuls on “behavioral mechanisms”. He has also written a book, The Strength of Paradox, about how paradoxes affect the decision-making process.

The GIGN is the special operations unit of the French Armed Forces, trained to perform ­counter-terrorist and hostage rescue missions.

Negotiators have been involved in high-level hostage situations such as the events earlier this year in Paris, in which two gunmen killed journalists in the Charlie Hebdo magazine office, before separately taking hostage shoppers in a supermarket and a company manager in his factory,

Glasgow-based sports psychologist Tom Lucas said he was “sceptical” over the links between hostage negotiation and rugby.

“The idea is, the importance of the decision-making process can be the same between hostage negotiations and sport psyschology, but that’s probably about it,” he said. “In hostage ­negotiation they have split-second decisions to make which can be life or death. In rugby, there are also split-second decisions to make, but whatever some people might say, rugby isn’t life or death.”

The squad will also undergo a boot camp with French commandos as New Zealander Mr Cotter looks to set the tone for the build-up to the tournament in England. He said the team would be taught to hone their decision making under pressure at the Pyrenees training base, once used by runner Paula Radcliffe for marathon preparation.

“I’ll be looking at character and how they adapt,” he said. “We’ll put them into different teams and they’ll have different challenges – resourcefulness, mental and physical resilience and elements of creativity.”

The Rugby World Cup will take place over 48 matches in September and October.

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