Redemption is one game away for Lievremont

AS the eldest of eight children, Marc Lievremont’s robust style in coaching the French rugby squad should perhaps surprise nobody.

His four-year reign has been seasoned by a no-nonsense, authoritarian manner — never more so than when he has felt Les Bleus have let him down.

Certainly, Lievremont is a man who demands to be followed, and who feels comfortable scolding any who digress.

So far, so normal, it might be said.

That he has managed to use these tactics to cajole a frequently volatile French outfit to the World Cup final in Auckland, however, is nothing short of astonishing.

He has criticised his players before and throughout this World Cup, labelling some of them “cowards” after losing to Italy in last season’s Six Nations and others “spoiled brats” after last week’s semi-final victory over Wales.

Players who disobeyed him by celebrating that less-than-emphatic 9-8 win were publicly branded “undisciplined, disobedient, sometimes selfish”.

“They are always complaining, always whingeing,” he told reporters, and at times his squad has appeared on the verge of revolt. Rumours of infighting and squabbling bubbled constantly beneath the surface, while senior players have spoken out against him.

Yet were his bickering rugby family to pull off a most unlikely upset in tomorrow’s World Cup final at Eden Park, critics will be silenced, scolded players salved and all will be forgiven.

Lievremont has just one game — his final one in charge — to seal his position in French rugby history.

He is likely to either be remembered as a controversial, chaotic, sometimes eccentric gambler or feted a giant of French sport.

Born to a French military man in 1968 in Dakar, Lievremont’s rugby pedigree is a fine one.

A flanker, and great tackler in the mould of Serge Betsen, he was in the France team, along with his brother, number eight Thomas, that thrashed Wales 51-0 in 1998 — France’s Grand Slam year.

He played his last international in the 1999 World Cup final defeat against Australia and three years later his playing career was ended by a knee injury.

The following year he started coaching at Biarritz, initially in charge of the Under-23 side, and the French U21s.

After helping Dax win promotion to the top flight in France after two years in charge (2005-07), he was named France coach, where he gave young talents Morgan Parra, then 19, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Francois Trinh-Duc their first caps during a period of oft-criticised experimentation.

Initially acclaimed by the French press, things went rapidly south for him, reaching a nadir at this World Cup.

Currently he is squarely positioned between the legacies of two French national soccer coaches — Aime Jacquet, who delivered World Cup glory on home soil in 1998, and Raymond Domenech, who lurched from chaos to mutiny at last year’s World Cup in South Africa.

Yet, however bad it has got for Lievremont, however vile the media attacks, he knows that full redemption may be just 80 minutes away.

In many respects, as France wing Vincent Clerc suggested yesterday, this is “a dream final” for Lievremont and Les Bleus.

Clerc said: “We understand all too well why the All Blacks are favoured. They are playing at home, and they will have a stadium jam-packed with New Zealanders. But we have not played the match yet. They are not world champions yet. I do not feel I am in the skin of a future loser, someone who can’t win. That is not how I feel at all.

“We are in the final and it does not matter what happened before. It is what happens now that counts.

“They have put in some great performances, and now maybe it is our turn to play our cards.

“We are capable of playing the match we need to play, and we are capable of beating the All Blacks.”

Clerc insists: “We do not need motivation and we do not have to look at what others are doing. We are in our own bubble, so it does not matter what the New Zealanders are doing in terms of their preparation.

“Little by little we are realising what we have achieved, and we have a huge opportunity. As the event draws nearer, the excitement is increasing. This is the World Cup final and we are not here by coincidence. You can put some of it down to chance but I don’t think it is coincidence.

“We will have to be committed and we will have to fight. We can’t fall into the trap of just doing any old thing. It will be a huge, huge rugby match, and we will have to put the heat on them.”

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