Over the last four years, when it’s come to controversial outbursts or selections from a country’s head coach, Peter de Villiers has comfortably sat on the throne as international Rugby’s jester. Classic quotes such as “If we are going on like this, why don’t we go to the nearest ballet shop, get some tutus and get a dancing shop going?” and “I’m a God-given talent. I am the best I can ever be. I know what I am and I don’t give a damn.” made him the humiliation of Bokke support and the amusing spectacle of the rest of the world. But lately, someone has been stealing his thunder…
Over the last two weeks, and especially since South Africa headed home two weeks ago, Marc Lièvremont has emerged out of de Villier’s shadow and taken centre stage. Full of typical Gallic passion, he has lambasted and grovelled in a yo-yo fashion over recent weeks with both the media and his players. The comments he has made when frustrated have been stunning, describing his squad as “cowards” back in the Six Nations, to sales gosses (spoiled brats) this week after they went out on the town rather than digesting their unconvincing win over Wales. The key words in this particular rant were not “undisciplined”, or “always whining” or “selfish”, but the damning statement that “it has been like this for four years.”
Fractious and bitter the last four years may have been, but they have not been without their share of success. In his time in charge, Lièvremont has seen France win a Grand Slam, beat New Zealand in their own backyard and defeat World Champions South Africa. His time has also seen the emergence of some brilliant young talent in French rugby; Morgan Parra, Maxime Médard, Alexis Palission and Maxime Mermoz will all start in the back division for France on Sunday, combining to good effect with the elder statesman of Aurélien Rougerie, Dimitri Yachvili and Vincent Clerc.
His selections have always been curious (anyone remember Benjamin Fall on the wing?) but switching Morgan Parra to fly-half this tournament really took le pompon. He travelled to this Rugby World Cup without some of French rugby’s biggest names; Frédéric Michalak, Clément Poitrenaud, Mathieu Bastareaud and Sébastian Chabal, and has effectively been proved right to have done so given that his side have reached the final. Sure it hasn’t been pretty, or convincing, but France are there. It may have seemed like chaos at times, but it’s further than Bernard Laporte ever got.
As if to give his side momentum in recent weeks, Lièvremont has grown an inspirational moustache which is proving to be a bit of a good luck charm. The “sleeping slug” has become his one last masterstroke, his parting gift to the Rugby world ahead of his final match in charge of the French national side before Phillipe Saint-André takes over. That last match just happens to be a Rugby World Cup final. You can just imagine his smug swagger walking into the press conference having lifted the William Webb Ellis Cup. For one of the game’s great characters over the last few years, it would be a wonderful finish.
by Ben Coles