All change for defending champions France

26th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Defending Six Nations champions France head into this season's tournament with a new coaching staff and a reshuffled squad of young players

   PARIS, January 25, 2008 - Defending Six Nations champions France head
into this season's tournament with a new coaching staff and a reshuffled squad
of young players after the disappointment of their World Cup campaign.
   France snuffled out a tactically-naive New Zealand in the quarter-final of
the World Cup, but crashed to England in the semi-final.
   Marc Lievremont was a shock choice to take over as coach from Bernard
Laporte, in harness with assistants Emile Ntamack (backs) and Didier Retiere
   Since then several stalwarts of French rugby over the last decade - Raphael
Ibanez, Fabien Pelous, Christophe Dominici and Serge Betsen - have all
announced their retirements from international rugby.
   Lievremont's 22-strong squad for the Six Nations has 11 players who were on
duty for Laporte at the World Cup and several others such as William Servat,
Elvis Vermeulen and Florian Fritz who return to international duty.
   The new coach, however, had to do without star utility back Frederic
Michalak who has taken a year off from international duty to play Super-14
rugby in South Africa and he has ommitted Sale strongman Sebastien Chabal, one
of the star turns for France in the World Cup.
   Under Laporte, France won the Six Nations not only in 2007 but also in
2006, and Grand Slams in 2002 and 2004, a record Lievremont will be hard
pushed to match.
   But the former France flanker, 39, was confident of a fresh start for the
French team come their opening match against Scotland in Edinburgh on February
   "Some people retired and we had some bad injuries," said Lievremont. "The
new selection is due to the fact we wanted to give quite a few new players a
chance and start from scratch for French rugby after the World Cup.
   "For the past three months we've seen a lot of players but we are still
trying to work on continuity."
   The new coach said steps would be taken to rediscover the so-called "French
flair" many considered was sorely lacking under the stewardship of Laporte and
predecessor Pierre Berbizier.
   "As a coach, what I would like to have is a lot of continuity in the game,"
he said.
   "People tell us French rugby is too airy, too open and a kind of mayhem on
the pitch compared to the rugby that used to be played under Laporte or
Berbizier. We need to find a compromise between the two."
   Lievremont said his game style would be based on going forward, and said he
had complete faith in his squad and their capability of winning matches.
   "We know Scottish rugby quite well and we've followed what's been going on
in the World Cup," he said of his team's first game.
   "France lost against them in the 2006 Six Nations. The important thing in
any team is discipline. This squad is based on my convictions and what we want
to do going forward. My choice was made on sporting grounds only.
   On the chances of winning the Six Nations, he said: "I hope so. We'll see
after the first match. We have a lot of ambitions but it's one day at a time.
I'm also convinced of the value of our squad."
   Newly-appointed skipper Lionel Nallet denied he was under any real pressure
on pressure: "There's no particular pressure. I've played with some of these
players before."


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