Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Rugby World Cup's $460 French farce

Thierry Dusautoir will lead an under-strength French team against Richie McCaw's All Blacks at Eden Park. Photos / Getty Images
Thierry Dusautoir will lead an under-strength French team against Richie McCaw's All Blacks at Eden Park. Photos / Getty Images

The French rugby team have been accused of making a farce of their Rugby World Cup clash with the All Blacks on Saturday night by naming a side without many of their stars.

The Eden Park match - considered by many as the best of the pool play - was the first pool game to sell out, with 60,000 fans paying up to $460 for a ticket.

The fact that France has been responsible for the All Blacks' early exit from two previous World Cups has fuelled interest in the match.

But French coach Marc Lievremont's naming of a drastically altered side - including halfback Morgan Parra making his first start as an international first-five - has disappointed ticket-holders and prompted others to suggest a fix.

In a column in today's Herald, British rugby writer Peter Bills, of the Independent group, says the selections devalue the most eagerly awaited cup game for four years.

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

He said Lievremont's Saturday team left out his entire first choice front row, one top lock and key back row man Imanol Harinordoquy.

Lievremont's selections showed he wanted to lose the match and stay in the side of the draw that will probably contain Northern Hemisphere teams, Bills says.

By doing so they would probably face Ireland or England on the road to the cup final, instead of the tougher South Africans or Australians.

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

All Black fan Gregg Thorpe, who is going to the game, said the French selection was an obvious attempt to throw the match.

"It's wrong ... but we'll beat them where it counts - in the final."

Rugby forums and Twitter have lit up with speculation on the selection.

Former Welsh number eight Scott Quinnell summed up much of the sentiment when he tweeted: "Parra at 10 for France v NZ. Do you get the feeling that they would rather not win?"

Former England and British Lions centre Will Greenwood, who writes for the Daily Telegraph, tweeted last night: "Parra at 10 for France New Zealand ... 4 years of looking for his best fly half and he throws a scrum half the jersey."

When asked by French journalists if he was trying to manipulate the draw, Lievremont dismissed the notion.

"I don't think we will start thinking we want to lose, that's certainly not an option, even if it's easier - and the All Blacks might want to lose," he said.

"I don't think it is in the spirit of rugby to start a match thinking we are going to lose."

Geoff Haigh of Royal Oak paid about $2200 for tickets to the Eden Park pool matches for him and his son.

He said the All Blacks-France match was obviously the highlight of the package but that might not be the case now.

"You expect a few strategic choices, but it's disappointing, it's a game that on past history France should feel they can win. And maybe they don't particularly want to."

All Blacks fan Peter Bone said playing a halfback at first-five was an indication that the team was not as strong as possible.

"It's not on. It's the World Cup, and you've got to play it like you mean it."

An International Rugby Board spokesman declined to comment, saying the IRB did not comment on team selections.

- Additional reporting: Amelia Wade

- NZ Herald

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