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Peter Bills: Tension shows as French coach blows his top

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Mon dieu! A French hissy fit from coach Marc Lievremont amid his spat with a French journalist during the post-match press conference at Eden Park after the crucial Rugby World Cup clash. Whatever next? A duel in the woods at dawn?

Under pressure, Lievremont blew his top after his misfit side predictably tumbled to a five-tries-to-two defeat against the Rugby World Cup favourites.

"Do you still believe you can win the World Cup?" Lievremont was asked by a French journalist. The coach snapped back "You really annoy me with that question. We have just taken no points from this match and I have said we might not qualify. Is that enough for you?"

As he left the press conference, the pair angrily eyeballed each other. Actually, it was more like handbags at three paces.

Lievremont's flare-up was revealing about the amount of pressure he is under back in France after picking a below-strength team. France left out five of their top forwards and their first-choice No 10, playing Morgan Parra, a halfback, at first five-eighths.

His defence was mercilessly tested by the All Blacks who kept turning the ball back inside and making consistent progress down that channel.

One French journalist said: "This isn't good for Lievremont, the reaction back home will be bad. There was no structure in their play. It was impossible to see what they were trying to do."

That's not true. What France were trying to do was lose the match without being annihilated. They know that defeat to New Zealand, assuming they now beat Tonga in their final game next Saturday, will mean they finish pool runners-up. That will put them into the easier half of the draw, dominated by the northern hemisphere teams, for the knock-out stages.

Had they won yesterday, the French would have found themselves facing a South Africa encounter in the semifinal and probably New Zealand in the final. The uninformed who claimed this was France's best team have some questions to answer.

Why was it that, when the game was lost and the French brought on their heavy guns, they turned the tables on the hitherto dominant All Blacks? Then, they started to play and cause problems for their opponents.

France, 19-3 behind at halftime after a one-sided first 40 minutes, were actually "winning" the second half 14-13 until Sonny Bill Williams' late try.

How to explain, too, the revival of the French scrum once first choices like Fabien Barcella, William Servat, Imanol Harinordoquy and Julien Pierre appeared to add ballast and superior technique?

Within minutes of one French scrum disintegrating early in the second half, pressure by France at the next, following Servat's arrival, produced a French penalty. Suddenly, the All Black scrum was under intense pressure. A coincidence? No.

But one thing the French will need to address is the inferior numbers they got to the breakdown compared with the All Blacks. Predictably, they paid a heavy price.

If some of the media were fooled by Lievremont's game, it's fair to say that Graham Henry wasn't.

Although pleased with the win and some fine tries, he pinpointed aspects of his team's performance which still require attention, such as the failure to get their defensive line into position early in the game.

Henry knows that tougher tests lie ahead for the All Blacks. Maybe even from France in the final.

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