Peter Bills on rugby
Peter Bills is a rugby writer and commentator

Peter Bills: Lievremont's selections thumb nose at IRB

France head coach Marc Lievremont. Photo / Getty Images
France head coach Marc Lievremont. Photo / Getty Images

France have devalued the most eagerly awaited World Cup game for four years and blown an enormous raspberry at the IRB.

Coach Marc Lievremont has chosen virtually a second string forward pack for the clash with the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday. It is a match that the rugby world has been waiting to see since the draw was made. Ever since France put New Zealand out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup in Cardiff, All Black fans have waited for the chance for revenge. But Saturday's re-match has been downgraded close to an irrelevance by the deliberate French selection.

Lievremont's choices scream just one thing - "the last thing we want is to win this match and finish as group winners. We want to lose, finish runners-up and stay in what now looks destined to be exclusively the Northern Hemisphere side of the draw".

The French clearly believe they can beat the likes of Ireland or England and could reach the World Cup final.

However, if they finished as group winners they would almost certainly have to play either an improved South Africa or the Australians in the other semifinal. The trouble with this strategy is the IRB has sold 60,000 tickets for a match always seen as one of the highlights of the tournament. Now, it is completely devalued and should be dominated by the All Blacks.

And it may set a precedent. Ireland's upset win over Australia may have been disastrous for the Wallabies but it was a nightmare for the South Africans. They are now looking at a likely route to the final barred first by the Australians in the quarter-final and then the All Blacks in the semifinal.

If the Springboks managed to lose to Samoa by less than 7 points in their final pool game (ensuring they take 1 point from the match which would probably be crucial), they would almost certainly end up second in their pool (behind Samoa if the Samoans beat them) and would go into the Northern Hemisphere dominated half of the draw. That would be a whole lot easier for them. To suggest the sharp Springbok coaches have not noticed this possible escape route from a nightmare quarter and semifinal programme, would be to insult their intelligence.

The IRB would appear powerless to stop this kind of tactical manoeuvring. It is making a joke of the World Cup and officials should be concerned.

France have made so many bizarre selections for this weekend that the conspiracy theory is the only logical explanation. They never go into any major game without their greatest warrior forward, hooker William Servat. Yet he only makes the bench.

The stunning selection is choosing two halfbacks. Dimitri Yachvili was always destined to play, but the choice of their other No 9 Morgan Parra at first five-eighths, is crazy. There is some story about the coach being disappointed with the form of Francois Trinh-Duc. Parra has never started a match for France at No 10.

Lievremont must have nearly split his sides laughing to himself when he explained the decision. "I thought about this long into the night, especially the decision about the halfbacks, which wasn't an easy one," he said.

This from a man who has hardly gambled with a team selection for four years.

It is an insult to the 60,000 who have bought tickets expecting a contest between teams at full strength.

Peter Bills is a rugby writer for Independent News & Media in London.

- NZ Herald

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