France coach regrets public axing of players

FRANCE coach Marc Lièvremont has apologised for comments made in the wake of Les Bleus’ shock Six Nations loss to Italy on Saturday.

Lièvremont hit the headlines on Sunday when he declared he felt “betrayed” by his players after the defeat, accused some of cowardice and suggested that the international careers of many were over.

Speaking at the announcement of the France team to play Wales this weekend, Lièvremont claimed his comments had reflected his anger following the Italian debacle but he had since calmed down and taken time to reflect.

“I regret my comments on Sunday when I said they had played their last international match. It wasn’t well-judged,” claimed the under-fire French boss.

“There was a sense of injustice that I chose five or six players out of the collective and scapegoated them.

“By Monday we were able to look back on the match and look forward to the match against Wales.”

Lièvremont admitted that heated conversations had occurred between the management and a number of players after the defeat in Rome but denied that he had lost the support of the dressing room.

“What I said to (the media) on Sunday, I said to the players with even greater force,” he claimed.

“It had to be sorted out at that time. These can be quite animated moments in life but I don’t regret what I said.

“My anger was legitimate. On Sunday I was torn between the desire to drive on the group and get rid of six who perhaps weren’t more responsible than the others.

“The explanations were heated. But they were also quite constructive and positive. I hope that things will keep progressing. Tongues have been loosened.

“I was still really upset and felt angry (on Sunday). Things are calmer now. You have to say things. I’ve always worked that way. In Italy, there was a failure in terms of commitment. The players are upset and there was a rebellion. But at this stage we’re only thinking of Wales.”

Lièvremont has made five changes to his France side for this weekend’s match against Wales. Damien Traille and Perpignan centre David Marty have been recalled in midfield ahead of Yannick Jauzion and Aurelien Rougerie while Brive winger Alexis Palisson gets his chance ahead of Yoann Huget.

Up front, Thomas Domingo returns at loosehead with Imanol Harinordoquy replacing Sebastian Chabal. Lièvremont added that the new players would bring “some freshness and enthusiasm” to the side.

He added: “We need to work on some collective things that we didn’t get right in Rome. That’s why all the players I’ve selected have already been replacements, except for David Marty and Alexis Palisson.”

Lièvremont and his coaching team, however, confirmed fitness doubts over Traille, William Servat, Nicolas Mas and Morgan Parra for the clash against the Welsh on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Shane Williams has withdrawn from the Wales squad.

Williams picked up the problem during Wales’ 19–13 victory over Ireland on Saturday, but was able to finish the game. However, after injury assessment on Sunday he was sent for a scan later that day which has since revealed ligament damage.

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