Tensions run high in France World Cup camp

Marc Lievremont’s tense relationship with his critics appears nearer to breaking point after the France rugby coach abruptly ended a news conference Saturday after a terse exchange with a journalist.

Lievremont was twice flustered by questions, one relating to his team selection against Canada, the other about whether he should have demanded that Toulouse release its utility back Jean-Marc Doussain earlier to join the World Cup squad.

Doussain was called up Wednesday to replace injured flyhalf David Skrela, but will not arrive until Tuesday because Toulouse insisted he play this Friday.

Lievremont had been diplomatic over the Doussain issue earlier this week, saying that he had to respect a club’s wishes, even though he regretted Toulouse’s decision to play him against Biarritz.

Asked on Saturday why he didn’t pressure Toulouse more, Lievremont said “I’m not going back over this issue. We’ll stop there.” Then he got up and walked away.

The 42-year-old Lievremont’s constant chopping and changing of his teams since he took charge four years ago has won him few friends in the French media.

He was dealt a harsh hand, though, when the French Rugby Federation named his successor, Philippe Saint-Andre, before the World Cup even started, leaving him on shaky ground and basically giving his critics a free hand for six weeks.

If France plays poorly at the World Cup, like they did against Japan last week, the critics can round on him safely in the knowledge that he will be gone after the tournament.

But Lievremont has also done himself few favors by constantly criticizing his players, lambasting them after a defeat to Italy in the Six Nations Championship earlier this year, and again after beating Japan last week.

Lievremont, who won 23 caps for France as a flanker, has regularly had to fend off questions over his selections, and why he tinkers so much with the team, but this time the questioning clearly irritated him.

Lievremont received a question about the timing of his team announcement for the Canada match as a direct provocation. It did imply that he might have anticipated a Canada win, rather than a Tonga win, and therefore prepared his team in consequence of that.

“What’s that got to do with my team selection?” he snapped. “We’re used to giving the team on Tuesday so they can prepare for four or five days, I don’t see what bearing that has,” on who won the Canada-Tonga match.

Not long after, the same critic came back to push Lievremont on the Doussain issue, and why – given that France is at a World Cup – he did not try and force Toulouse’s hand.

“I don’t see the point in going over this again,” Lievremont answered. “In any case, I didn’t do it.

“I didn’t demand it, but, with respect to certain things, it’s been a while that I haven’t demanded much,” he added. “I’m not going to go back over this issue. We’ll stop there.”

Lievremont then nimbly slipped away through a back door, well ahead of schedule.

Earlier Lievremont blasted World Cup organisers for unfair scheduling of the World Cup’s smaller nations saying they were acting out of an “anglo-saxon logic.”

With 20 teams playing in four groups of five, the pool stages consist of 40 games spread over a 23-day period and the top Tri-Nations and Six Nations sides have generally been given more time to recover between games.

Other “second-tier” countries such as Tonga, the United States, Canada and Georgia have found themselves with just three or four days to recover.

“The Tongans (who lost to Canada on Wednesday) had just five days to recover after their match against the All Blacks and that is too little,” Lievremont said.

“But that is anglo-saxon logic for you which deems that the big powers enjoy all the advantages and the so-called minnows just have to get on with it if one day they too want to be big.


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