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France under strain ahead of Tonga RWC match

Updated: September 29, 2011, 01:54

WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) Discarded flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc has spoken of his shock at being dropped from France's starting lineup at the Rugby World Cup, just days before its decisive pool A match against Tonga.

Trinh-Duc was left on the bench for France's last match against New Zealand, and again named among the reserves for the Tonga match in Wellington on Saturday.

Having been a regular starter for three years, Trinh-Duc said he is struggling to understand why coach Marc Lievremont has replaced him with Morgan Parra.

"I was very disappointed. And astonished. When you're playing in a World Cup it's to be in the first team every match,'' Trinh-Duc told sports daily L'Equipe in an interview Thursday. "It was obviously difficult to find out that for the most important match against New Zealand, and the one against Tonga for (our) qualification, that I'm only a reserve.''

Parra usually plays scrumhalf and not a specialist No. 10, so Lievremont's decision to retain him at flyhalf against Tonga must mean Trinh-Duc's place in the team is under jeopardy ahead of the quarterfinals.

He scored a try against the All Blacks when he came on as a second-half substitute, but that was not enough to earn him his position back.

"I tried to give everything I had against the All Blacks, to show that I was raging and that I was still around,'' Trinh-Duc added. "I'm trying to put things into perspective because everyone's saying: 'Are you OK? Is it not too hard to take?' Obviously it's hard.''

Lievremont has been openly critical of his players during the tournament and after the All Blacks defeat, both No. 8 Louis Picamoles and utility back Damien Traille aired their frustrations over team selections.

France's coach has been showing signs of strain, cutting short one news conference, using an expletive to answer a question from a French journalist, and then telling several journalists the following day they could walk out the door if they didn't like his answers.

Lievremont's direct, forthright style does not sit well with some of the players.

Lock Sebastien Chabal, who was surprisingly not included in France's World Cup squad, thinks Lievremont should have been more private rather than lambasting his players in public.

"Marc was the first to openly criticize them after the first two games,'' Chabal told RMC radio. "Normally you do your dirty washing (at home).''

Parra has been thrust into the limelight in a position that's not even his own, which has only increased the pressure on Lievremont's team heading into Saturday. If Parra has a poor game and France loses, the criticism will be severe.

"Morgan got through that game against New Zealand because he's got talent, but once again, where is the logic behind it?'' Chabal said. "At the moment, Francois (Trinh-Duc) must be wondering if he's only good enough to play (cards) or to polish the benches of New Zealand.

"I've been in situations where Marc (verbally) attacked him directly and it wasn't nice to him,'' Chabal continued. "But he kept him so he could keep improving right up until this tournament. And when the day comes he shoots him down. I don't know what state Francois will be in after the tournament.''

Local media have only been taunting France.

The New Zealand Herald Newspaper printed a front page headline on Thursday which read: "We're too clean, claim French'' alongside a photo of flanker Julien Bonnaire appearing to gouge Richie McCaw's eye as the two jostled on the ground during Saturday's match at Eden Park.

A closer look shows that Bonnaire's finger is actually lower than McCaw's eye, with no apparent intent to gouge him.

"This photo taken in action has been taken out of context. I've never seen Julien do that kind of thing in a match, whether it's an international (match) or a Top 14 (first division) game,'' France center Aurelien Rougerie said. "That's all they've got to do. There's probably some bitterness, a grudge, behind all that.''

The France team arrived in Wellington, New Zealand's capital, on Thursday afternoon.

It may not be the ideal place for France to take refuge from its climate of internal pressure.

Two years ago, a fictitious late-night fracas caused an international political incident on the national team's tour.

France center Mathieu Bastareaud lied to New Zealand police about being assaulted after a test in Wellington. Bastareaud seriously injured his eye socket and needed stitches for facial cuts in the early hours following France's 14-10 loss.

He initially said he'd been attacked by up to five men upon returning to the team hotel, then said he was hurt after falling onto a bedside table in his room.

His lies led to French Prime Minister Francois Fillon issuing an apology to New Zealand counterpart John Key.

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