Media ‘massacre’ uniting Les Bleus

DRAMA seems to follow this French team like a bad smell. It’s not enough that manager Marc Lievremont has blasted his players, and the players ignore his every public word.

On the eve of the biggest game in their careers, centre Aurélien Rougerie blasted the press for their “bland” questions, prompting a group of journalists to walk out.

The French have been battered by questions regarding rifts in their squad and coach Lievremont’s frequent criticisms of their attitudes. Lievremont has also endured a tumultuous relationship with the media, calling the atmosphere at press conferences “detestable”.

While the coach’s angst showed signs of easing yesterday when he admitted he was wrong to slam his players for partying after their semi-final win, Rougerie was unable to hide his contempt.

He questioned journalists about why the squad had to endure scrutiny while there was nobody to judge the critics. Rougerie said that he was tired of the “bland” questions being asked. In response, a group of around 10 journalists walked out of the room.

Lock Lionel Nallet attempted to diffuse the situation by admitting that while he did not like the criticism, it was now a non-issue. The lock went on to say the stand-off with the media helped the squad.

“In a way it brings us closer together... we’ve been getting massacred for a while now,” he said.

“I don’t see why I should be angry with the team. We’re in the World Cup final. I would have liked to be 20 points up against Wales. There’s been no recognition, that’s for sure. If we win this match, there will be.”

Lievremont attempted to dissuade the issue further by described New Zealand’s destruction of Australia as “exceptional” while maintaining his belief that France can tear up the form book and produce one of the international game’s great upsets.

“We are in the final match and every time we play them [New Zealand], it is the same thing,” said Lievremont.

“They are always the favourites, but I believe in my team and I believe we can win.”

Lievremont has named an unchanged side for the final, although he will not confirm the composition of his replacements’ bench until later this week.

“It is always the same when it comes down to the All Blacks,” he added.

“In the first half of the match against Australia, they were very strong and aggressive and they were impressive. In the second half it was the same thing and the All Blacks dominated.

“You know, I expect the best from the All Blacks, and I think they played their best rugby in that match. They were exceptional.”

Eventually, though the interest returned to the constant suggestions of rifts in the camp between Lievremont and his players. And he fanned the flames himself earlier this weekend when he described some of them as “spoiled brats” for going out to celebrate the victory over Wales when he asked them not to.

But Lievremont said today: “I think I said those things to put pressure on them.

“And when I read the headlines the next day and saw my words in the written press, I thought to myself that I had missed an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.

“What we need to do now is to focus on our solidarity and on our aggression.”

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