Rugby World Cup 2011
Beers the tonic for France
Marc Lievremont (AP)
Auckland - Distraught France coach Marc Lievremont thinks a few drinks might be just the tonic he and his players need after their worst-ever Rugby World Cup performance dished up a win to Tonga on Saturday.
France lost 19-14, and the defeat would have been far heavier had Tonga held the ball better and kept their composure during repeated attacks.
Ever since the tournament started, Lievremont has been drumming into his players the need to raise their game, but he now thinks an old-fashioned bonding session might be compulsory ahead of the quarterfinal against England next weekend.
"I've never been against sharing a few beers together, in order to get things out in the open, and that's a possible option for us," a clearly shaken Lievremont said. "I think the criticism from the press has strengthened the spirit of the group, even though this environment isn't comfortable for me and my players."
France clearly must play much better to stand a chance of beating old rival England on Saturday.
"After a defeat like that, the squad is in a difficult position," captain Thierry Dusautoir said. "What's for sure is that if we play at that tempo against the English, we'll lose and go back home."
France have played poorly so far, relying on their superior fitness levels to get the better of Japan and Canada with late tries. Their defensive flaws were glaringly exposed when they was comprehensively beaten 37-17 by New Zealand.
"When you see the attitude we showed today you can wonder what was going on in our minds," Dusautoir said, adding that the team has been plagued by a lack of confidence "for a long time now."
France scored at least four tries in each of their two wins, earning a crucial bonus point, but only a late try from winger Vincent Clerc - his fifth this tournament - ensured automatic qualification in Wellington on Saturday night.
"I don't know if it's ever been done to lose twice and reach the quarterfinals. So there you are, France enters into the Rugby World Cup history books," Lievremont said. "I feel sad for the numerous French people who came here to encourage us, who continue to believe in us. We were more nervous the longer the match went on."
Although Lievremont insists on the need for face-to-face talks with his players, he has said this before, and little has changed to suggest an improvement in either form or concentration once France take the field.
"It's hard to find an explanation for everything, but you have to take responsibility for your actions," Lievremont said. "I still believe in my players. But I'm waiting for them to react. I don't think we have a choice now, and I want to carry on fighting. I believe the players do, too, even if they're disappointed by how they played tonight."
Surprisingly, Lievremont ruled out making changes against England.
"I think it would be very hard to shake up the whole team before the quarterfinals. I've made choices," he said. "I'm not sure if (others) had played the outcome of the match and the attitude would have been any different."
Dusautoir has previously defended his team-mates, promising they would find the reserves needed to step up a level the longer the tournament went on.
But even he was in unforgiving mood after the Tonga debacle.
"Every time we broke through we dropped the ball, left gaps in our defense and had to scramble back not to concede a try. It was a difficult match on every level," he said. "When you miss one-on-one tackles, pass the ball on the ground, there's nothing much you can say about anything."
France have no second chances now, and Dusautoir hopes that will shake the team out of their slumber against England.
"The fact we have the quarterfinal to come puts us in front of our responsibilities," he said. "We don't have much to lose now, we won't be favourite."