'Cowardly players betrayed me'
Paris - France coach Marc Lievremont launched an unprecedented attack on his players on Sunday in the aftermath of their historic 22-21 Six Nations defeat by Italy accusing them of betrayal and being cowards.
The 42-year-old has suffered many reverses since guiding France to the Grand Slam last year - their first since 2004 - but the nature of their defeat to Italy when France had led 18-6 in the second half left him seething even after having had a night to reflect on it.
"Maybe they were too much in the comfort zone," mused Lievremont, who was a surprise choice to replace Bernard Laporte after the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
"Do I feel responsible for that? No, they betrayed us, they have betrayed me and they have betrayed the French national team shirt.
"In terms of the tactics deployed, it defied belief. I did not recognise anything in their performance that we had worked on.
"Do you really think that I told them to play as they did against Italy? I was ashamed. I do not have the impression we asked them to walk on the moon. I do not ask for complicated things.
"This match was an hallucination. I do not want to clear myself from the blame but they invented things on the pitch."
Lievremont, who steadfastly refused to step down after the humiliating 59-16 home defeat by Australia last November, laid into his players and questioned their character.
"They are lacking in courage. They are good guys but cursed with what is obviously cowardice," said Lievremont, who refused to address the players after the match such was his fury and only singled out captain Thierry Dusautoir and wing Vincent Clerc for praise.
"They are not even capable of admitting to their own mistakes. Perhaps it is a trend among the new generation," added Lievremont, who was a top class back row forward and played in the 1999 World Cup final defeat by Australia.
Lievremont, who said that he would make sweeping changes to the squad for the final Six Nations match next Saturday at home to Wales, said he should have been more alert to a possible shock given the attitude of the players when they returned from club duty last weekend.
"Last Saturday evening, they must have behaved like idiots after their matches.
"I left them alone till Sunday evening. Monday, they dragged their feet. Tuesday, their training session was disgusting, appalling.
Lievremont, whose position does not appear to be in jeopardy and indeed at the post match banquet French rugby federation chief Pierre Camou was heard saying 'I will maintain the coach', said that he wasn't spoilt for choice when it came to bringing in replacements.
"I can bring in players who weren't in the original enlarged Six Nations squad of 30," he said.
"Anything is possible. But in terms of solutions with regard to the players, there are not 10 000.
"I have done the rounds of the French players, I am beginning to know them and I am having real trouble in putting together a squad.
"Finally, we have to send 30 players to the World Cup...
"I have already looked several players in the eyes and told them they would be at the World Cup. All that is now up in the air. The Italy match means we are back at the starting gate.
"What is for sure is that certain players have worn the French shirt for the last time."
Meanwhile, Lievremont has made six changes to his squad for next weekend's concluding Six Nations match against Wales.
The casualties of the Rome defeat are Sylvain Marconnet, Jerome Thion, Sebastien Chabal, Yannick Jauzion, Clement Poitrenaud and Aurelien Rougerie.
This group is replaced by Jerome Schuster (Perpignan), Pascal Pape (Stade Francais), Alexandre Lapandry (Clermont), Fabrice Estebanez (Brive), David Marty (Perpignan) and Alexis Palisson (Brive).
Wing Rougerie has been dropped due to his mid-week disciplinary hearing for an incident in a French Top 14 game for his club, Clermont.
Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Thomas Domingo (Clermont), Luc Ducalcon (Castres), Jerome Schuster (Perpignan), William Servat (Toulouse), Guilhem Guirado (Perpignan), Lionel Nallet (Racing-Metro), Julien Pierre (Clermont), Pascal Pape (Stade Francais), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, captain), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz), Alexandre Lapandry (Clermont)
Morgan Parra (Clermont), Julien Tomas (Montpellier), Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Fabrice Estebanez (Brive), David Marty (Perpignan), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse), Yoann Huget (Bayonne), Maxime Medard (Toulouse), Damien Traille (Biarritz), Alexis Palisson (Brive)