Lievremont: France must improve or face Italy embarrassment

FRANCE head coach Marc Lievremont admits his team could be embarrassed by Italy on Saturday if they fail to improve on the “mediocrity” they have shown so far in the RBS 6 Nations Championship.

The French yesterday reacted to Sunday’s humiliating 34-10 defeat to England at Twickenham by making four personnel changes and two positional alterations to their side for this weekend’s clash with the wooden-spoon favourites in Rome.

Damien Traille, Florian Fritz, Julien Bonnaire and Fabien Barcella all return to the team, with Julien Malzieu, Mathieu Bastareaud, Jerome Thion and Lionel Faure dropping out as Lievremont again rings the changes, this time understandably.

Lievremont is still at a loss to explain why Les Bleus lacked so much bite in ‘Le Crunch’, but warned his under-performing squad things could get a lot worse if they do not buck up their ideas ahead of Saturday.

“If we continue in this mediocrity, there is a great chance we are going to lose,” said Lievremont, whose side’s only good display so far this tournament came in the win over Wales on matchday three.

“There are many reasons for this, having seen our match in England, the context and the improvement of the Italians. We have everything to fear in this match.”

Lievremont has come under renewed fire following France’s no-show at Twickenham and admits he is yet to come to terms with what happened on Sunday.

“To me, it was inexplicable,” he said. “It isn’t an organisational problem. There were just individual things that went on that I can’t explain. The main disappointment was our lack of physicality. Some (players) have said to me that they haven’t slept for two nights.”

The two changes behind the scrum see Traille come in at full-back — pushing Maxime Medard to the right wing in place of the benched Malzieu — and Fritz return at centre instead of Bastareaud, who is also among the substitutes.

Up front, Sale prop Faure drops out of the 22 with Barcella returning to the front row and Bonnaire starts at number seven in a move that sees Sebastien Chabal slip back into the second row as a replacement for Thion.

“This was a setback but we genuinely couldn’t just get rid of a dozen players,” Lievremont said.

“I don’t believe that changing too many players would provide us with the answers. As you have seen, we are keeping faith with this squad and we hope they are going to react.”

Frederic Michalak, the mercurial fly-half who has been reinvented as a scrum-half since returning to Toulouse following a season-long sabbatical in South Africa, was called up on Monday evening as a replacement for the injured Sebastien Tillous-Borde.

The 26-year-old is in a France squad for the first time since the 2007 World Cup but only makes the bench this weekend.

Lievremont is also happy to have Chabal back as a lock after seeing the experiment at starting the Sale tyro as a flanker against England go wrong.

France have not won on their travels since their victory over Scotland in last season’s Six Nations, which was Lievremont’s first match in charge. A heavy win for France could secure them third spot in the table — even second if Wales lose at home to Ireland — although Les Bleus would also need England to lose at home to Scotland.

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