France XV unchanged for World Cup final vs NZ
Updated: October 18, 2011, 22:26
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) France coach Marc Lievremont has given the same players who narrowly squeaked past Wales the chance to make history by beating New Zealand in Sunday's Rugby World Cup final.
France labored to a scrappy 9-8 win over a spirited Welsh team that played for more than one hour with 14 men in last Saturday's semifinal, but Lievremont believes the same XV is good enough to become the first French team to win the World Cup.
"I didn't really hesitate. It was fairly clear to me,'' Lievremont said as he announced the team Wednesday. "I still believe in my team's chances, of giving their best and winning.''
While the French have been flakey at times, the All Blacks have been in convincing form, dispatching No. 2-ranked Australia 20-6 on Sunday, and head into the match as firm favorites.
Lievremont maintains that he doesn't care about entertaining fans with vintage French flair, because his goal is to win the tournament.
"Once again it's a final, and if we have to win it the same way we beat Wales I will accept that without complex and with great pleasure,'' he said.
Nor has he planned any rousing speeches before the big game.
"I'm not too much of a dreamer, I normally have my feet on the ground,'' he said. "But playing the All Blacks in the final is obviously as good as it gets. I'm a fairly spontaneous person, there isn't a prepared speech in place.''
France is the first team in World Cup history to feature unchanged lineups in three consecutive knockout matches after Lievremont used the same XV to start in the quarterfinal win over England and the narrow victory over Wales.
Morgan Parra has recovered from a sore neck sustained against Wales, when he kicked three penalty goals, and will again partner Dimitri Yachvili in the French halves.
Lievremont has delayed announcing his reserves bench until Friday.
France will be playing in its third final, having lost the inaugural final to the All Blacks at Eden Park in 1987, and to Australia at Cardiff in 1999 - when Lievremont played his last match as a French international backrower.
"I keep telling myself I'm lucky enough to experience this kind of event,'' he said. "It's really hard to compare a final as a player and as a coach, just that these games often come down to small details. I hope that will be the case, and not the thrashing everyone's predicted.''
New Zealand beat France 37-17 in the pool stage, also at Eden Park. Lievremont has 13 players from that squad in his starting lineup for Sunday.
The French have knocked the All Blacks out of two World Cups - the 1999 semifinal and the quarterfinal four years ago.
"We always expect the best from the All Blacks,'' Lievremont said. "The Australians didn't play their best but New Zealand was exceptional,'' in the semifinals. The All Blacks haven't dropped a game in the tournament, while the French opened with scrappy wins over Japan and Canada before back-to-back losses to New Zealand and Tonga to scrape into the knockout rounds.
The French rallied for a convincing win over England in the quarterfinals, after racing to a 16-0 lead in the first half, before another below-par performance in the semifinals.
Despite being criticized for playing an ugly brand of rugby that is far-removed from the France's long-standing reputation for playing with flair, Lievremont thinks expectations on his team have always been unrealistic.
"The problem with a lot of people is that they have serious holes in their memory,'' he said. "In 1999, apart from a very accomplished semifinal (against New Zealand), the French flair or the French spirit, as they say, was seriously missing - I should know, I was there.
"In '95, of course there was an epic semifinal (against South Africa), but we qualified in the last minute against Scotland in the quarterfinals,'' he continued. "In '87, it was complicated in the pool stage, I think it was because of Fiji knock-on for us to reach the semifinal. I think the history of French rugby, even if displeases some people, has always been made of ups and down - some matches that were not good, some won through courage, like last week.''
France: Maxime Medard, Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Maxime Mermoz, Alexis Palisson, Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili; Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Lionel Nallet, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Jean-Baptiste Poux. Reserves: TBC.