A question of what might have been for the French, but over what period of time? To lose a final against the host nation and outplay them over the course of the 80 minutes suggests that France almost got things right. As Greavsie used say, “It’s a funny old game”.
Was Lievremont’s tenure a failure or was he simply an emblem of French rugby? France appeared to enter the World Cup in good form, comfortably beating Ireland in Lansdowne Road, if a touch unsure of their first fifteen. They started well against Japan, had a little wobble, then went out to the front garden and started throwing crockery at each other. It never got much better until the final. The loss to Tonga was abject, the victory against England seemed to come as a surprise to France and the Warburton red card was pivotal in the semi-final win against Wales.
And yet, they could have won the final. This was France’s third final. The previous two had both been non-events for the French, coming on the back of epic semi-final wins. That suggests that France ‘always have a game in them’ but can’t do it on consecutive weekends, which seems to be the crux of the issue. The mental preparation of teams looks to be something that will gain more attention in four years’ time. Bob Casey mentioned the lack of a psychologist in an article reviewing Ireland’s World Cup and coaches will look for any edge when the knock out rounds come. However, France would have needed more than one psychologist to deal with all their issues.
The performances of Dusautoir and Harinordoquy in the final were stunning, with or without the help of a psychologist. It is rare that an athlete can produce their best performance on the biggest stage. To have two of them play so well was almost enough to win the tournament. Trinh-Duc came off the bench and, rather than be cowed by the lack of confidence shown in him by his coach, looked to show the world what he could do.
But, had Canada not beaten Tonga, France would have out in the group stages. If the French were doing just enough to get through each round, it was a tactic fraught with risk.
The tournament raised more questions than it answered about France. Are French players precious? Do they need their backs to the wall? What is their best team? Are they capable of playing without drama and do we want them to? Can France maintain a standard good enough to win three big test matches back to back? If not, why not?
The Mole does not have the answers to these questions and doubts if Philip Saint Andre will either. What did work for France was selecting the same team on a consistent basis and devolving power to the players, even if this seemed to be have been more of a revolution than a conscious management decision.
This has been the second World Cup in succession where a team has had a dust up with their coach and tripped through to the final. Once would be an accident, twice seems more than a coincidence. Is a siege mentality helpful during the knock out stages as it focuses the mind on the task in hand? France almost beat New Zealand because of their defence, denying them lineout ball at set piece time, denying them space with quick line speed in broken play and denying them counter attacking opportunities through solid ball retention. It was a performance of artisans rather than artists.
Squads preparing for future World Cups will not use France v2.011 as a template, despite how close they came to triumph. Vive la difference!