Concerns remain for France
October 11, 2011
Marc Lievremont has against all expectations carried France to the semi-finals but is it because of him or in spite of him? © Getty Images
And so it came to pass. France play Wales in a World Cup semi-final this weekend, despite almost all French players, coaches and supporters at a loss as to how it came about. For a side that lost two games in the pool stages and suffered a squad meltdown, not to mention an irreparable rift between the coach and some players, France are 80 minutes from a World Cup final.
Having turned up for just 10 minutes against the All Blacks, they managed a full half against an awful English side, but they'll have to show a huge amount more to beat an in-form Wales side.
To their credit, France's players showed the kind of spirit and personal responsibility last weekend which has been hitherto lacking in this tournament. Lièvremont has been the focus of all of the nation's ire for the last few weeks but then again he's been an easy target.
Squad meltdown or not, the performance of some players in the Tonga game was downright disgraceful and while Lièvremont deserves it in the ear for his numerous selection and tactical mistakes, he cannot wear the jersey for the players.
With that nightmare now a not quite distant memory and that morale-boosting quarter final win against England in the back pocket, Les Bleus move onto the next level at Eden Park on Saturday with the whole rugby world wondering if they've got the cojones to put back-to-back performances together.
Naming an unchanged team for this weekend's game could be considered something of a bold new step for Lièvremont if he is indeed the person in charge of the controls. The preference of Morgan Parra over Francois Trinh-Duc at flyhalf continues to baffle and will once again be the major weak link this weekend against the Welsh.
The Dusautoir-Bonnaire-Harinordoquy troika were superb last weekend but they'll have their work cut out defending the No. 10 channel against the all-singing, all-dancing Wales backrow, and a re-born Jamie Roberts.
Then there is the scrum. France's front row was boosted last weekend with the return of Nicolas Mas at tighthead but the lingering presence of Jean-Baptiste Poux over the out of form Fabien Barcella continues to be an issue for France.
An imperious front row has been one of the few constants during the Lièvremont era but the loss of Thomas Domingo before the World Cup, allied to the injury problems of Barcella, Servat and Mas has meant the de-powering of an area that has always been a source of strength.
As this stage of the competition, the lure of the shining golden prize in the distance is motivation enough for the players so the very least we can expect from France will be a passionate, committed performance.
We know too that when the game breaks up, in Maxime Medard, Alexis Palisson and Vincent Clerc, France have some wonderful runners. But Les Bleus are brittle, as they have always been during Lièvremont's tenure and that could be decisive.
Talent and a big dollop of luck has got France this far, but the FFR-sanctioned 'curse of Marc Lièvremont' could still derail France's hopes.
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