Controversial French coach Marc Lievremont takes his leave after defeat in last night's Rugby World Cup final sad, but proud of his players' achievement.
It has been an awkward campaign for the former international flanker, but he had only praise for the French team after they pushed the All Blacks right to the brink at Eden Park.
At halftime, trailing 5-0, France felt right in the hunt, Lievremont said. Their dressing room had a positive feel to it. Indeed, he described the second half as "one-way traffic".
"The players made many promises to themselves and they kept them," Lievremont said. "There was very little in the match."
But Lievremont would not criticise South African referee Craig Joubert, who penalised France harder in the match than the All Blacks.
"I met him two days ago and told him I thought he was the best referee in the world.
"I told him there would be extra pressure on his shoulders and I promised myself I would not criticise him or his refereeing [after the match]," he said.
France's tryscoring captain, Thierry Dusautoir, spoke of his disappointment at the final result. But he followed his coach's lead in refusing to attack Joubert's handling of the match, other than to confirm that the ruck area "is always a difficult phase to referee, but it is vital for the game".
"He's one of the best in the world. We probably didn't do enough to get that vital penalty at the end," he said.
France signalled their intent by facing the All Black haka in an arrowhead formation, then moved together, arms linked to halfway, or a fraction beyond.
Dusautoir said his players wanted to do something different in facing the All Black challenge.
He detected nerves on both sides during the final.
"I thought everybody had nerves - them and us," said the flanker. "All week long we had feedback [about the significance of the test] and today the 30 guys on the pitch were all scared."
Dusautoir admitted to sadness at the 8-7 loss, "but we were lucky in previous rounds. Tonight we were not lucky, but that is part of sport."
That said, Dusautoir described the final, and France's path to it, as "a great story".
"It's a great moment we will all remember. Of course, had it been capped with a victory it would have been fantastic," he added.
Dusautoir was terrific for France again last night, as he had been in their quarter-final defeat of the All Blacks in Cardiff four years ago.
In that match, he also scored a try, and tackled magnificently.
At the end of their press conference, with a tumultuous campaign over, Lievremont was asked if he had any final words for his players after a tumultuous few weeks in New Zealand.
He replied simply: "Thank you."By David Leggat Email David