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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK


France: Dangerous when wounded

Thomas Lievremont is tackled as France suffer a shock home defeat to Wales

Could France be the Wales of the 1991 World Cup - the member of the "Big Eight" that fails to reach the quarter-final?

After finishing bottom of the Five Nations and then getting hammered in New Zealand, the French are certainly ripe for defeat - but maybe that is when Les Bleus are at their most dangerous.

The summer tour of the southern hemisphere was a disaster - but it is the speed of the team's fall from grace that is most remarkable.

A little more than 18 months ago, riding on a wave of confidence after two consecutive Five Nations Grand Slams, France were considered to be firmly in the top four in the world - just behind South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Lone success

The 1999 Five Nations in contrast only saw one victory - and that a scratchy 10-9 win over Ireland in Dublin which came with the last kick of the match.

But even with that recent record taken into account they cannot be written off, as they have by far the best record of the Five Nations teams in Rugby World Cups and on tours against major nations.

Finalists in 1987, quarter-finalists in '91, the French also made the semi-finals in '95.

And if France are going to regain former glories they would certainly look to have the leadership to do it.

Passionate skipper

There is is no more committed and inspirational captain in world rugby than Raphael Ibanez and the coach Jean-Claude Skrela is backed up by one of the game's most astute tactical brains in Pierre Villepreux.

Skrela says: "We can get back on track. Now is not the time to get depressed. It is time to react.

"Thanks to the game against New Zealand (when they fell to a record 54-7 defeat) the players now realise just what the demands of high-level quality rugby are, and that there remains a lot of work to be done."

His skipper Ibanez - ever the realist - recently played down their chances, believing victory in the tournament was beyond them.

He said: "The French team must go into the orld Cup with very measured ambitions. It would be indecent to think of anything else.

"We have the potential to be quarter-finalists, and we can hope to qualify for a semi-final, but to win it - of course not!"

World Cup squad:

Backs: Christophe Dominici, Olivier Sarramea, Xavier Garbajosa, Christophe Lamaison, Jimmy Marlu, Cedric Desbrosse and Philippe Bernat-Salles, Stephane Castaignède, Pierre Mignoni, Thomas Castaignède, Ugo Mola, Stephane Glas, Emile Ntamack, Richard Dourthe,

Forwards: Raphael Ibanez (capt), Marc Dal Maso, Fabien Pelous, Olivier Brouzet, Abdelatif Benazzi, David Auradou, Christian Califano, Franck Tournaire, Peter De Villiers, Cedric Soulette, Olivier Magne, Marc Lievrèmont, Lionel Mallier, Arnaud Costes, Christophe Juillet, Thomas Lievrèmont.



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Rugby World Cup 1999
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