French reject idea of deliberate defeat

New Zealand and France prepare to battle in World Cup although a defeat might not be the worse result for either side.

Marc Lievremont
 France head coach Marc Lievremont (R) receives a traditional Maori hongi at the World Cup [GALLO/GETTY]

All Blacks fans have a morbid fear of France when it comes to the World Cup but last weekend’s results have unexpectedly led to traitorous whispers that another French triumph would actually be a good thing for the host nation.

As the group stage reaches the halfway point and fans and players were given time to draw breath on the action before nine consecutive days of matches, attention is turning to the big showdowns next weekend.

Among them is New Zealand v France in Auckland, a game the host nation have been particularly focused on in the wake of their shock defeats in the 1999 semi-finals and quarter-finals four years ago.

However, after Ireland’s surprise victory over Australia looks to have skewed the draw into a southern and northern hemisphere split, that match has suddenly become a good one to lose.
The winners will top the group and probably face Argentina or Scotland in the quarter-finals before then having to take on holders South Africa or Tri-Nations champions Australia.

“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”

French coach Marc Lievremont

The runners up can plan for a likely last-eight meeting with England then a game against Ireland, Wales or Samoa for a place in the final.

Of course it would be against the nature of All Black rugby to even consider setting out to lose a match, not least at Eden Park, and though it was a subject widely discussed amongst fans and on internet forums, no mention of such a scenario passed the lips of anyone connected with the New Zealand team.

The same equation applies to France of course but when coach Marc Lievremont was asked the question he, as expected, 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.”
Last-chance saloon

One player who certainly would not risk giving his all if he gets the chance is All Black wing Zac Guildford, who is now in the tee-total area of the last-chance saloon after being reprimanded for excessive drinking following New Zealand’s Tri Nations defeat to Australia in Brisbane last month.

All Black manager Darren Shand said Guildford had breached the team’s agreement on drinking: “He’s let himself down, he’s let his team mates down,” said Shand.

Guildford has not been banned but has yet to feature in the tournament following a poor display in that game: “I feel now that I have got a chance and I want to make the most of it,” said the 22-year-old.

“I don’t want to throw this opportunity away.”

Argentina against Scotland is another of the weekend’s big games with a likely runners-up spot behind England in Pool A the reward for the winners.

     All Black Zac Guildford found himself in the bad books after excessive drinking [GETTY] 

“It’s certainly the biggest game in some of our players’ lives. It could effectively dictate for both teams whether or not we progress in the tournament,” Scotland centre Graeme Morrison said on Monday.

Argentina are still sweating on the fitness of flyhalf Felipe Contepomi, who missed their win over Romania with a rib cartilage injury sustained in the opening defeat to England.

Prop Martin Scelzo, however, had no doubts that his skipper would be back: “He is going to be fine and, if not, he has to be fine,” he said.

There is plenty of rugby to be played before those weekend matches, however, starting with Italy against Russia in Nelson on Tuesday.

The Italians had expected their final game against Ireland to be a decider for second place in Pool C but the Irish win over the Wallabies, who beat Italy in their first game, has shifted the goalposts.

Captain Sergio Parisse said, however, that their approach to the Russia match had not changed.

“We knew before that match that we would need to start scoring tries…but it won’t mean we will start to run the ball from our own line,” he said.

Russia will be relishing their second taste of World Cup action following their debut defeat by the United States and their arrival and the encouraging performances of other “lesser teams” has delighted the International Rugby Board.

“It’s great, we’re very, very happy with what’s going both on and off the field,” IRB secretary general Mike Miller said in an interview.

“If you look at the Pacific islands, Russia, the US, Canada and Romania, we’ve invested millions of dollars in them to give them the same sort of competitive structure, the same sort of strength and conditioning and match analysis as the top 10 countries.
“They don’t tire in the last 20 minutes like they used to now that they’re stronger and fitter, and they are more sophisticated in the way they play.”

Source: Reuters