Lievremont is ready to make his Marc

by Staff Writer

For a man who never wanted to be a coach, Marc Lièvremont is close to a shot at achieving Rugby World Cup glory for France.

If he succeeds, he will have done so despite allegations of division among his players, erratic form and a barrage of vitriol from parts of his country's press.

Lièvremont's team appeared to put all of their troubles behind them with a sensational 19-12 defeat of England in the quarter-finals. Now they face Wales in the semi-final at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Victory will put them into the final against New Zealand or Australia with the chance to become the first French team to win The Webb Ellis Cup.

Then he will quit his post as coach and be free of all the political machinations and sniping he believes go with the job.

Lièvremont is something of an idealist, with wide-ranging views on sport and society, but he is not naive.

Team spirit

He railed against the French press for taking advantage of his honesty and openness, and often at press conferences he criticised the presence of players' agents around the team. He would have preferred to be alone with his squad, like the "good old times".

Does Lièvremont dislike this aspect of evolution in rugby? “One should be cautious when making such statements," he said. "Such things were already happening in 1995 or 1999. Rugby evolves in a positive way in many respects, such as the fight against violence or doping.

"But we live in a society which worships the image and this leads to individualism. That goes against values such as altruism and solidarity, which are central in rugby. But I believe in the good in the human being."

These values, which are so dear to him, go back to his childhood and his education. “I come from a big family - I am the oldest of eight children.

"I started playing rugby when I was five years old. I know what team sport and team spirit mean. That is probably one of the reasons why I love being surrounded by people.

"But I have also learned to search for solitude from time to time, and to appreciate it. For instance, I love reading. I read a lot and a little bit of everything.”

Press bashing

Does that extend to Lièvremont's tempestuous relationship with the media?.

“Part of the French press, and not only the French sports press, loves to bash its own national team," he said. "That press also loves sensationalism, because obviously that makes it sell more papers.

"And making a disappointed player - or one who is angry at me - talk to them is a piece of cake. But no one will ever read an article about the 14 players who don’t have any problem with me.

"For two years I played the game (with the press), answered every interview, was not stonewalling, and all I got was to be misquoted or had my comments taken out of context.”

Therefore, he was not really surprised by the attacks on his leadership. People talked about his lack of experience, and even questioned his competence. Was he really unfazed by such remarks?

“The French team has a long history of ups and downs. Of course I would have loved to make it win more often.

"I know that I am competent. I was sad, disappointed, and sometimes angry, but I never felt I was overwhelmed by the situation. I have a mission and I will fulfil it to the end.”

Revelation

Lièvremont might never have endured his troubles had he stuck by his initial thoughts to stay out of coaching. “I didn’t want to be a coach. I passed my diplomas when I was still a player, but I had promised to myself that I would never be coaching.”

But after he retired as a player, Biarritz Olympique club president Marcel Martin convinced him in 2002 to take up the challenge.

“I was in charge of the under 21s and it was a true revelation," said Lièvremont. "I knew rugby from a player’s perspective. I was very focused on my own performance."

He swears that the pleasure he had tutoring young players was no less intense than coaching Les Bleus at the highest level.

That, too, was a position he hesitated to accept, especially as he was going to take over from Bernard Laporte, with whom he does not share many similarities.

He said: "I was scared by the political aspects of the job, by the contacts with the media that it involves.”

Lucky star

Now that is all coming to an end, yet Lièvremont has no long-term plans. Initially he has ideas to work with his brother Thomas.

“I don’t think very far ahead," he said. "I trust my lucky star, which has taken good care of me so far. I consider myself as being very privileged.

"Rugby is part of my life so would I coach again? Of course, why not. But I will only do it again if I find another group with whom things go well, and a man like Marcel Martin in Biarritz, or Pierre Camou, the president of the French Rugby Union. My relationship with him is very good.”

Lièvremont's immediate priority is to plot the downfall of the Wales team and he said: “They are very consistent, they are fit, they play the best rugby of this World Cup.

"We want to deliver the same first half as against the English and to stick with this level of play in the second half.”

Maybe he will not need to trust his lucky star to do that for him - just his players.

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