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Parra holds his nerve, helps France reach final

Updated: October 15, 2011, 08:48


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Morgan Parra began the Rugby World Cup on the bench as a scrumhalf. On Saturday he led France into the final from flyhalf.

Holding his nerve in the semifinal with Wales, Parra slotted two penalties in a gritty first half - one from wide left - and added another after the break to put France 9-3 ahead in a match it won 9-8.

"It might be one of the ugliest matches I've ever won in my career, but it's a win and we're in the final,'' Parra said. "We know we didn't play well, but our team spirit and our strong defense saw us through.

"We managed to hold on without giving in, even though we were sometimes one or two meters behind the ruck so as not to concede a penalty. We can't claim to have played with composure for 80 minutes, but maybe we had some of the luck that's been missing before.''

France received a golden advantage when Wales captain Sam Warburton was sent off midway through the first half, but Parra thinks this worked against the French as it made them too tense.

"We had fear in our bellies. We though this red card would free us, but it was the opposite,'' he said. "When they got the red card we told ourselves there was no way we could lose this match. We kept making little mistakes, one after the other, and couldn't get on top. I'm not sure we would have held on 15 against 15.''

The 22-year-old Parra tried to spark what little there was of France's attack in the first half, embarking on one swerving run through midfield and kicking ahead for Auerlien Rougerie and Alexis Palisson to chase down.

"I'm pleased with how I played, but the team's victory is what pleases me the most.''

He missed a dropped goal to start the second half, and a fine run through midfield was supported by Vincent Clerc, but the rare try-scoring chance was lost in a ruck won by Wales.

"Morgan was magnificent in terms of his courageous defending, and he was the player who created the most gaps in the Welsh defense,'' France coach Marc Lievremont said. "He was also perfect with his (penalty) kicking, so it was a huge game from Morgan.''

Parra goalkicked instead of Dimitri Yachvili because the scrumhalf was still recovering from a bruised thigh. Parra also stepped in for Yachvili in the pool win over Canada, booting over 23 points.

Parra came into the tournament battling for the starting scrumhalf position with Yachvili. He found himself in the reserves for the opening pool match against Japan, as Lievremont selected Yachvili and No. 10 Francois Trinh-Duc as his halfback pairing.

Now Trinh-Duc is on the bench and Parra is first-choice at flyhalf, and Lievremont has a tough decision whether to let him keep the kicking duties in the final if Yachvili recovers well enough.

With Yachvili instrumental to France's game plan, Lievremont may not take the risk of asking him to shoot for the posts.

Former Argentina flyhalf Gonzalo Quesada, an outstanding goalkicker during his career, coaches France's kickers and he spent a lot of time in training with Parra last week.

Since the flashy first-half performance in the quarterfinal win against England, France has played nearly two hours with little of its trademark flair.

Yet it finds itself in its third World Cup final, and first in 12 years.

Parra wasn't fussed about the lack of entertainment because, he said, France won the Six Nations Grand Slam title in 2010 playing a similarly defense-minded system.

"It reminds me a bit of when we won the Grand Slam, our game was based on solidarity in defense, a good kicking game,'' he said. "Maybe we didn't play that way but we managed to win the Grand Slam. Maybe it's significant that we've gone back to that.''

Whether that will be good enough to beat Australia or New Zealand remains to be seen, since France has lost heavily to both teams in the past year.

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