France v England, Six Nations, March 20
Lievremont wary of England challenge
March 17, 2010
France coach Marc Lievremont speaks to the media following his latest team announcement © Getty Images
France coach Marc Lievremont has admitted it will be a 'huge disappointment' if his side do not complete a Six Nations Grand Slam with victory over England in Paris this weekend.
Les Bleus could already be Six Nations champions by the time they take to the pitch on Saturday night, with Ireland's match against Scotland taking place nearly three hours earlier. However Lievremont, whose team trounced Italy on Sunday to leave them within touching distance of glory, feels it would mean little without the Grand Slam crown.
"We have talked about it since the presentation of shirts," he said. "We were drunk with excitement before the match. But we don't boast about it. It was one of the objectives from the beginning of the year. Even though mathematically we can think we'll win the tournament, to do so without the Grand Slam would be a huge disappointment.
"We have a group that works well and is beginning to have a good experience. The new ones are fitting in well, like Marc Andreu for example who brought a lot of energy. As Ducalcon before him. I also saw Parra as an improvised opener with great panache."
France beat Italy 46-20 on Sunday, 24 hours after England battled to a 15-15 draw in a kicking duel against Scotland at Murrayfield. France have scored 13 tries in their four Six Nations games so far, eight more than a misfiring England, and few observers are giving Martin Johnson's men much hope of spoiling the party in Paris.
However, Lievremont is conscious of the fact that since triumphing at the Stade de France in 2006, France have only beaten England in two friendly internationals before the last World Cup. Moreover, France are gunning for revenge, after last year's hefty 34-10 defeat.
Lievremont added, "England are a team with enormous potential. We all remember the last England-France match, last year at Twickenham. They are capable of better, even if they have only shown that intermittently during this tournament. So we're going to prepare ourselves. It's a super team that we're welcoming. We haven't beaten them for three years. Like Australia. It would be good to do so before the 2011 World Cup."
France centre Mathieu Bastareaud insists rivalry between the two camps is not as fierce as it used to be but is still expecting both sides to come out all guns blazing. "We're not here to give out hugs on the pitch! It's a France-England game," he said. "We're playing for the tournament, they've been badly criticised. It's going to be a match to dig into, we know it, because the English game is very physical. It's going to sting, it's going to hurt us from the beginning of the match and we mustn't give up anything.
"These are two of the biggest nations in the northern hemisphere, but the rivalry has calmed down a bit, it was more tense in the 90s when it was really heated. Now, mentalities have developed, we have English players in our clubs, we have French ones who play there. In any case there's no particular animosity. matches like this make you dream."
Just as France have been the team of this year's competition, Bastareaud has emerged as arguably the player of the tournament. The powerful centre started his tournament by completing a fairytale comeback against Scotland, scoring his first two international tries in his first Test start since falsely claiming he had been assaulted during his country's tour of New Zealand last summer. And Bastareaud, who was rested against Italy, has gone from strength to strength since then.
"I think I have grown," added the 21-year-old. "That in the game I'm raising my head more, physically, mentally. I feel better and you can see that on the pitch. In Scotland, during the first game, I just wanted to have a good game, start my tournament well. I was - and I knew - a thousand times awaited. Above all I just focused on putting myself in a bubble, on not putting more pressure on me than there was. It's part of my daily life, I just needed to learn how to manage it."