Lievremont breaks silence
Marc Lievremont (Gallo Images)
Paris - Former France coach Marc Lievremont has criticised the All Blacks for their attitude toward his players since New Zealand's victory in the World Cup final, a match he finds it too painful to watch again.
In an interview published late Friday on Le Monde newspaper's website, Lievremont praised New Zealand rugby fans during France's unlikely run to the final on October 23.
But he was less kind about the All Blacks' attitude since the game and also questioned whether match referee Craig Joubert had coped with the pressure in the closing stages as New Zealand ground out an 8-7 victory.
"They didn't have a word to say about the France team, and at the gala night at the end of the tournament, it was all about the All Blacks," Lievremont said.
"They were faced with a very trying context because they absolutely had to win. I always thought they were there for the taking. I was more afraid of South Africa."
The match was packed with incident, with France centre Aurelien Rougerie escaping being cited for alleged eye gouging against All Black captain Richie McCaw despite evidence showing the he had a case to answer.
France lost flyhalf Morgan Parra to an early injury when McCaw's knee caught the side of his head after Parra was trapped underneath the ruck.
"We didn't appreciate the behaviour of their coach Graham Henry, of the captain Richie McCaw. They're still talking about Aurelien Rougerie's eye gouging on the basis of rather tendentious editing," Lievremont said.
"But when you see how McCaw behaved, notably with Morgan Parra ... I think they could have shown a bit more humility."
Lievremont felt France should have beaten a shaky New Zealand team - and raised questions about Joubert's refereeing decisions.
"We had some clues, we showed that by keeping the ball, by moving New Zealand about, they had problems getting back into position," Lievremont said. "If the referee had been consistent we could have drawn them into fouls, too."
Despite the All Blacks pack constantly backpedalling, and failing to roll away in the ruck during the closing stages, Joubert did not blow his whistle.
"We knew there would be a lot of pressure on his shoulders. I think he's an honest man who was influenced," Lievremont said.
"My regret is that, despite this refereeing which was, let's say, 'permissive,' we could have won. We created chances to score a try he couldn't have refused."
Lievremont felt the Australians also had "a referee who didn't always help them" in their semifinal loss to New Zealand.
"Everyone was eulogistic [about New Zealand], but I felt the Australians missed out," Lievremont said.
Lievremont, however, was touched by New Zealand's fans.
"I think there's a big difference between the behaviour of [New Zealand's] leaders and New Zealand's media, who put an enormous amount of pressure on the All Blacks' rivals, and the attitude of people in the street," Lievremont said.
"In the hearts of New Zealanders, France was already a special opponent and I think we won their respect. They never stopped encouraging us."
Lievremont, who has been replaced by Philippe Saint-Andre, still can't bear to watch the final.
"It's maybe the only match in four years I haven't watched again," he said. "It could open up wounds. There's a feeling of bitterness. We were so close to something huge, one of the biggest exploits in French sporting history."
Lievremont's own World Cup became a sideshow as he grew a thick moustache after losing a bet with his backroom staff.
"I saw people in New Zealand who were wearing a [fake] moustache and who applauded me perhaps a bit more than certain players," he said. "I think certain [players] didn't like that. That probably didn't help."
Tensions persisted between him and key players like flanker Imanol Harinordoquy during the tournament.
Lievremont's tough man-management was unconventional and unpopular.
"He cast the stone at us too often. When something goes wrong, we're all in the same boat," Harinordoquy said after the tournament. "I felt he was lost ... I won't miss him."
After the semifinal win over Wales, Lievremont was furious players defied a curfew to go out late into the night.
He called them "a bunch of undisciplined, spoilt brats, disobedient, sometimes selfish, always complaining, always whining, and they've been [frustrating me] for four years".
It was an astonishing outburst, although Lievremont still claims he meant affectionately.
However, he felt Harinordoquy was hypocritical for speaking out against him after the tournament.
"I consider him to be an intelligent guy with a big ego," Lievremont said. "I was surprised by his lack of sincerity, because he shook my hand right until the end. Even after the final he could have told me he didn't like me."