Matfield: Too many turnovers
Toulouse - France coach Marc Lievremont has come under the usual fire since taking charge of the national team a year ago, but there is now a strong feeling that he is working to a well-oiled masterplan.
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Going into the Test against South Africa on Friday, Lievremont had an average record of nine wins for nine losses, having blooded a massive 68 players and continually tinkered with combinations in the process.
But there is no doubt that given his team's comprehensive 20-13 win over the world champion Springboks in front of a fervent Toulouse crowd and the surprise 27-22 defeat of the All Blacks in Dunedin in the summer that he has some real players of potential to go into the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
"Beyond the score, we're very satisfied with how we played strategically and tactically," said Lievremont, who saw his forwards dominate the breakdown and scrum and half-back pairing Julien Dupuy and Francois Trihn-Duc perform admirably.
"Apart from two moments, when they scored their try and when we went off the boil at around the hour mark, we played our own game.
"We scored a try before half-time and were unfortunate not to score at the end of the game - we had two or three occasions to score."
Captain Thierry Dusautoir said an aggressive defence had been key to the French win.
"We continued in the second-half as we had done in the first. We were solid in defence in the first-half into the wind," said the Ivory Coast-born skipper, whose side now play Samoa and New Zealand.
"We made a little mistake for John Smit's try but were very good in defence throughout."
The Springboks repeatedly paid the price for ill-discipline during the game, Morne Steyn and Ryan Kankowski both sin-binned as referee Wayne Barnes cracked down on collapsing the rolling maul and rucks.
Dupuy kicked four penalites from six, and Morgan Parra one, with wing Vincent Clerc bagging a try for the home side while Morne Steyn hit a penalty and drop-goal as well as converting Smit's opportunist try from an overthrown home lineout.
Springbok lock Victor Matfield said his team, who go on to play Italy and Ireland, could have few complaints about the loss.
"They had more intensity than us, they were one second quicker to things than us," said Matfield, who suffered a torrid opening quarter alongside famed second row partner Bakkies Botha, both having to go off for treatment to head wounds.
"There were too many turnovers, that's what the game is about and that's where they won," said Matfield.
"It was wet out there, but it was wet for both teams and they didn't spill as much as us, so that's something that we'll have to think about.
"We gave away a few penalties (at the scrum), we need to keep on working and hopefully next week and the week after it will be better.
"We always knew it was going to be tough coming to France. We haven't beaten them here for 12-13 years.
"They came out firing and the intensity was very high."
Matfield added: "Physicality is part of the game and for most of the time, the guys who win that battle win the game.
"When it's three guys hitting one guy, it makes it difficult, and that's what they did."