RWC Final preview: The greatest trick Lievremont ever pulled
France head into the World Cup Final in dire form, with a basket-case coach and with no hope of success. But is it all part of a deliberate ploy in the greater scheme of things?
By David Sheehan
There’s a line in the film The Usual Suspects that goes thus: ‘The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.’ Much the same can be said of Marc Lievremont and his meticulous scheme, which has been recognised by nobody, to see France arrive at a World Cup Final as the rankest of rank outsiders.
Written off as a loon who has relinquished control of his squad, Lievremont is clearly the orchestrator of a ruse the like of which hasn’t been seen since Ed Norton convinced Richard Gere he was off his rocker in Primal Fear. But enough movie references.
The French coach and his Machiavellian plot has taken us all in. France entered the tournament in reasonable form, but this has mysteriously disappeared since their arrival in New Zealand.
They were slaughtered by the media for their poor showings in the pool, but once Ireland had toppled Australia, all that remained for France to do was roll over against the All Blacks and coast to a second place finish in the pool with a handy run to the final ahead of them.
The added stroke of genius from Lievremont came in losing to Tonga, a defeat which had no bearing on France’s placing in the pool, but one which further reinforced the view that the French were in disarray, under the direction of a man that is to coaching what Inspector Clouseau is to crime-solving. Such a good job had the French done in fooling us that virtually everyone thought they would lose to a hopelessly one-dimensional England in the last eight.
The greatest trick Marc Lievremont ever pulled was convincing the world he couldn’t coach.
The first 40 minutes of that quarter-final must have enraged Lievremont. Having played the role of hapless tourists to a tee up to that point, the sight of Martin Johnson’s band of jolly-boys meant that the French players could no longer restrain themselves and in the first half of that game they couldn’t help but flex their muscles just a little.
One can only imagine what the French coach must have said to his side at half-time. One thing is for sure, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Here they were, rolling along under the pretence of being a total shambles on and off the pitch, everything going according to plan – and they go out and play brilliant rugby?
Sacre bleu! The cover was close to being blown, but thankfully the now shame-faced French reverted to the master plan in the second half and let England back into the game. The old frailties were still there, everyone agreed. The first half was just a flash in the pan. They’d gotten away with it, just.
Wales next. ‘What France team will turn up?’ everyone asked. Those who had been paying any attention would have known that they would again play the role of the listless, malfunctioning bunch of malcontents that they now had down pat. But Lievremont was already thinking a game ahead, and with that in mind, set a trap that will come to fruition on Sunday.
Lievremont lets Thierry Dusautoir in on his little secret
Getting under the skin of New Zealand isn’t usually advisable, as it often unleashes the kind of rage from the men in black that reduces most teams to dust.
Of course if you insist on doing it, then the best way is, of course, to insult the precious Haka. Now, most of us enjoy watching an All Black XV performing this Maori ritual, but it has been done to death in this tournament. Not only are teams welcomed onto the pitch by a Maori warrior (or, more likely, a local nut covered in henna holding a spear), but word from the other side of the world is that ‘flash’ Hakas are as common as Richie McCaw infringements and that you can barely go to the supermarket for a loaf without being confronted by the tribal dance. But I digress.
Talking of spears, RTE dug out the rule book in the wake of Sam Warburton’s red card last weekend, but Marc Lievremont could have quoted the law back to us weeks ago. All part of the plan, see? When New Zealand line up for the Haka on Sunday, expect France to show the same blatant and shocking disregard for the dance as Brian O’Driscoll did in 2005.
Vincent Clerc will assume the O’Driscoll role and will, obviously, be singled out for his comeuppance. Reports that emerged before the World Cup that some French players – Clerc among them – were taking lessons from a parachute jump instructor suddenly make sense. They had been learning how to land safely from a spear tackle, something which Clerc reaped the benefit of last weekend. He will again be the bait on Sunday as Lievremont hopes the final piece of his diabolical jigsaw falls into place.
Here they were, rolling along under the pretence of being a total shambles on and off the pitch, everything going according to plan – and they go out and play brilliant rugby?
Flagrant disrespect for the Haka, in Auckland, with the eyes of the world watching…well, that isn’t going to fly and no self-respecting All-Black is going to take it lying down. As O’Driscoll learnt, justice will be meted out to the first Frenchman unlucky enough to get hit.
This is just what Lievremont has been banking on, and shows the genius of the man. He would have known that no referee in his right mind would send off an All-Black in front of a crazed home crowd, in the biggest game in New Zealand’s history.
BUT, Clerc lined himself up last week and took the fall, Warburton walked, and the issue of spear tackles was run up a flagpole so high that every rugby follower in the world knew about it. It was all raked up – the exact wording of the rules, the memo from Paddy O’Brien to all referees that this tackle was to be met with the ultimate punishment. Red card. Lievremont knew this.
So, come Sunday, there will be no place for Craig Joubert to hide when the inevitable spear tackle comes from an overly wound-up Kiwi. And should Joubert seek assistance from his touch judges, then one Alain Rolland will be only too happy to pass on his advice and shift the focus of vendetta from his shoulders to Joubert’s. Happy to do it too, one would imagine.
With New Zealand down to 14, France can then ditch the Citroen CV2 game and pull the Ferrari, witnessed briefly against England, from under the tarpaulin.
Lievremont has left nothing to chance here. Even upon the announcement of the final 22, Damien Traille – omitted from the last three match-day squads following ‘criticism’ of his coach – was singing from the well-thumbed hymn sheet with his ‘I thought it was a mistake when I saw my name on the list’ act. Come on Damien, isn’t this charade getting a little old?
Amidst a backdrop of poor performances, staged revolt in the camp, seemingly strange selections and comedy moustaches – to say nothing of Maxine ‘Wolverine’ Medard – Lievremont’s evil plot will have its crowning glory on Sunday, when the word Machiavellian may well be replaced in the dictionary with ‘Lievremontian’.
When the biggest smokescreen in the history of world sport clears, you can say you read it here first. The greatest trick Marc Lievremont ever pulled was convincing the world he couldn’t coach.