Paris - French rugby clubs have opposed the idea of having a foreign coach for the national team, according to the results of a referendum released on Friday.
Just 900 of the 1 742 amateur clubs in France opted to take part in the vote, and 59 percent voted against the proposal, the French rugby federation (FFR) said, despite a disappointing 2019 Six Nations tournament and low expectations for this year's World Cup in Japan.
"I will respect this choice," said federation head Bernard Laporte, who has made handing power back to the clubs the motif of his bid for re-election as FFR chief in 2020.
Laporte told radio station his preferred option to succeed current coach Jacques Brunel was Ireland boss Joe Schmidt.
"My number one choice was Joe Schmidt, for one simple reason, he speaks French like you and I," Laporte said.
Kiwi Schmidt spent three years in France working with club side Clermont and Laporte was keen to test the potential grassroots support for a foreigner taking up the reins.
Laporte opened the debate in the wake of France finishing a disappointing fourth in this season's Six Nations, saying at the time that he had not ruled out appointing a first-ever foreign coach to replace Brunel, with France to host the next World Cup in 2023.
Laporte had not named any possible replacements for the 65-year-old Brunel before speaking to French radio, but had said he had "gone to meet the five best coaches in the world to offer them the job".
Among the names bandied around as potential candidates to replace Brunel were New Zealand duo Warren Gatland - who led Wales to this season's Six Nations Grand Slam - and Schmidt, as well as Australian Eddie Jones, presently at the helm of England.
France is alone among Europe's leading rugby union nations in never having employed a foreign head coach.
In the southern hemisphere, the All Blacks have always had a Kiwi coach and the Springboks always a South African, while Australia had ex-All Black centre Robbie Deans at the helm between 2008-13.
Argentina have had largely home-based coaches apart from brief separate spells when Jon Hart and Alex Wyllie, both New Zealanders, shared coaching duties with locals.
World Cup hosts Japan currently have ex-All Black Jamie Joseph as head coach, having appointed Frenchman Jean-Pierre Elissalde as their first foreign coach in 2005.
The result of the club's referendum caps a traumatic week for the FFR, which was on Monday ordered by an industrial tribunal to pay €1 million in compensation to sacked national coach Guy Noves.
Noves became the first France coach ever to be fired, in December 2017, after a meagre seven wins from 22 matches alongside 14 defeats and a humiliating home draw with Japan.
Under Noves, France lost six consecutive games between June and November 2017, a string of results Laporte deemed unacceptable.
Noves, who had been appointed by Laporte's predecessor Pierre Camou, was replaced by former Italy coach Brunel in time for the 2018 Six Nations.
Brunel, however, has failed to turn France's fortunes around, with just five victories from 16 games he has overseen.
French hopes for a good showing at the World Cup - where they have been drawn with England, Argentina, the United States and Tonga in a tough-looking Pool C - rest on the likes of up-and-coming Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont, who have steered Toulouse into the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup.