France v Wales, Six Nations Championship, February 27
Lievremont after complete display
February 26, 2009
Marc Lievremont is waiting for his France side to cast off their shackles © Getty Images
France coach Marc Lievremont has gambled once again with his selection for their Six Nations tie with Wales, but is still hopeful of his side putting in a complete display and silencing their doubters.
After an encouraging performance in defeat to Ireland France were slow and mundane against Scotland last time out. With centre Benoit Baby seconded as a makeshift fly-half for the game following an injury to Lionel Beauxis, Lievremont has again displayed his frustrating ability to surprise. Wales will be all too aware of the old cliché,' you never know which France will turn up', but Lievremont is after a marker from his side, not a flash in the pan.
"We are chasing after what you would call a match of reference, a match of quality, an accomplished match," he said. "If we are honest, you can't say all the elements have come together, even though we know the France team is capable of shining. Everything is possible. We really want to match our abilities and do a lot better than we have shown against Ireland and Scotland so far."
Scrum-half Morgan Parra, also inexperienced at Test level, will take on the kicking duties for the game, and Lievremont knows that the knives will be out should Baby and Parra fail to make the grade.
"It sure isn't ideal," Lievremont said. "If we win, we will be right. If we lose, we will look like incompetents and fools (for picking Baby at fly-half)."
Wales will have scant opportunity to prepare for Baby's turn at No.10, heightening the feeling of going into the unknown against the French.
"You never quite know what you are going to get with France on certain occasions," said Wales kicking coach Neil Jenkins. "I think Rhys Long (Wales analyst) is pulling his hair out! Baby is a fantastic rugby player who is comfortable kicking the ball. Playing at 10 is a different position for him, but they've obviously got faith in him.
"We had a thought it might be Baby at 10, and they've gone with that. You adjust and you adapt, and it is quite a big side they've picked, so they might be coming route one at us. But France are France, and sometimes it is difficult to prepare for them. Hopefully, whatever they throw at us on Friday night, we will be ready for.
"Playing France in France is a huge game, but the way our boys are going, I don't think we should fear them. Obviously, we will show them respect, but it is a game we can win if we play to our potential."
Jenkins, one of the greatest kickers of all time and a former holder of the record for international points, does not believe that Parra's inexperience of handling kicking duties will impact on France too heavily.
"Parra kicked against England last year, and in France, a lot of the nines are comfortable goalkickers - Elissalde and (Dimitri) Yachvili, for instance, in the past," he said. "It can be a slight risk when someone is not your regular goalkicker week in, week out, but these guys are seasoned professionals who know what it is all about. He (Parra) stepped up against England last year and knocked over what wasn't an easy kick in a pressure situation."
With injury doubts over Shane Williams and Jamie Roberts assuaged Wales will head to the Stade de France in full health. Openside Martyn Williams is set to break Gareth Edwards' record for Five/Six Nations appearances in the game, a feat that does not surprise Jenkins.
"He (Williams) is one of the best players in the world, if not the best in his position," Jenkins said. "He has been absolutely amazing for Wales over his career. I think he is comfortably going to get 100-caps, plus. He is a fantastic player and incredibly fit - his durability speaks for itself. He's been huge for the game in Wales and the national team."