Future bright for France after heroic RWC final
Updated: October 23, 2011, 21:49
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Although France leaves the Rugby World Cup with a feeling of regret after pushing New Zealand so close in a nerve-shattering final, the future of French rugby looks to be in good hands.
France lost 8-7 but won back its pride and restored the hopes of its fans.
Veterans such as lock Lionel Nallet, hooker William Servat, prop Jean-Baptiste Poux and utility back Damien Traille are unlikely to play in another World Cup, but the younger players will have gained huge confidence from what was a testing tournament for France.
The likes of Francois Trinh-Duc, Morgan Parra and Maxime Medard hold the keys to a bright future. All are in their early-to-mid 20s and already have significant experience at international level.
"I think there's a young generation coming through which has a lot of quality, whether it's in sporting or human terms. This is important, because the French team needs this,'' the 32-year-old Traille said. "A few of the veterans are going to step down, but I think the young players can take over and help the French team experience some good times. I hope many of them will be here in four years and that the French team will win the World Cup one day.''
The 22-year-old Parra started the tournament as a replacement scrumhalf to Dimitri Yachvili, but ended up being first-choice flyhalf, playing with a maturity and intelligence befitting of a far more senior player.
Trinh-Duc, 24, shook off the disappointment of being dropped to the bench after Parra's unexpected positional change and responded with an inspirational performance when he came on midway through the first half of Sunday's final.
France also has Jean Marc Doussain, another scrumhalf, who is waiting for his chance. The 20-year-old Doussain went on for the last five minutes to replace a tiring Yachvili, marking his international debut in the biggest match of all.
"Whether it's Morgan, Francois, Maxime Medard, it's a young generation that has a lot of talent,'' Traille said. "You could see that in the way Morgan adapted so quickly to playing No. 10. The future's looking bright.''
France was lambasted for its poor form in the pool stage, ridiculed after its 19-14 defeat to Tonga, and written off by most critics before it had even taken the field to face England in the quarterfinals.
The French players had stern words with each other after the Tonga loss.
"We'll need a bit of time to take stock of everything. There were some positives, some negatives,'' said winger Vincent Clerc, who co-led the tournament with six tries. "We had trouble communicating with each other, it wasn't perfect. But that's the case with a lot of generations.''
But from the rubble of that humiliating Tonga defeat, France grew. The feeling of negativity enveloping the squad just as quickly turned into one of passion, pride, and a feverish obsession to prove the critics wrong.
"Everyone had predicted there would be no final,'' Traille said. "We were heavily criticized, we heard it all.''
Many of the critics were camped within the French press, which was aghast at coach Marc Lievremont's defense-minded approach to rugby, and accused the team of breaking with its long-standing tradition for flair and attacking rugby, which was carved in stone by the likes of fullback Serge Blanco.
Blanco, however, never joined the chorus of former internationals queuing up to slate the current team.
"There is disappointment, but also a lot of pride. The team gave everything it had, that's what's so great,'' Blanco said. "When you give 120 percent you come out stronger. I'm so proud of what they've done. It will help them to have a bright future and to take their place in the history of French rugby.''
The outspoken, frank-talking of Lievremont may have upset some players, but it also served as a catalyst to sting their pride. None more so than when he labeled them as "spoilt brats'' just a week before the final after they had defied his orders and went out into the night to celebrate the semifinal win over Wales.
France's topsy-turvy tournament featured a myriad of emotions, crushing lows and sumptuous highs, but it also created a true team spirit that should serve the team as a reference point in the years to come.
"We will have to remember all the moments we spent together, because it's a human adventure which stays with you for life,'' lock Julien Pierre said. "Even if everything wasn't perfect, we gave everything we had. Now we're going to get drunk together, and drink some beers like spoilt brats!''