France

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World Ranking: 5 Prediction: 1st

THE INSIDE VIEW

Thomas Lievremont

Age: 31

Position: No. 8

Club: Biarritz

Debut: 25/09/96 v Wales

Caps: 25

Tries: 2

What is your first memory of the Five Nations as a boy? When I was a little boy we would watch France on French TV. I was about 6 or 7 years old, it was 1979 or 80, and we would be really proud of the French team.

What is your abiding memory of your Five Nations debut? My second cap was more memorable, it was against England and it was the first game I played at the Stade de France and during the national anthem I thought how nice it was and I became very emotional.

What has been your best moment in the competition? When we won the Grand Slam at Wembley against Wales. I was playing with my brother Marc when we won the last game and it was very special.

And the worst? When Ireland beat us in 2000 it was very hard, not only to accept defeat but also the game they played; very strong, we couldn't do what we wanted, it was very frustrating.

And the funniest? In Scotland it was dinner after the game and they brought haggis for us. We said, `What's this?' and then they did the queen's prayer. It wasn't funny, maybe, just surprising. I liked it though.

What was the team's best performance last year? Against England last year, we were very strong, we were excellent.

What do you need to improve? I have to work on everything; we can always be better. I can work on my sprinting, I'm not so fast.

What are your country's prospects for the tournament? It is going to be difficult; Ireland and England are playing at home. It will be hard for us.

If you don't win it, who will? England or Ireland can do very well, but it will be tough.

Which young player will catch the eye during the tournament? Perhaps Yannick Nyanga (Beziers, flanker), or Florian Fritz (Toulouse, centre).

Will a Grand Slam be completed this season? No, because everybody will lose a game.

CULTURE CORNER

What is your favourite...

Book? The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum.

Film? La Grande Evasion ("The Great Escape") (below).

Band? All music, except dance.

TV programme? I like to watch all sport programmes.

2 KEY QUESTIONS

1How much did the autumn hurt? France are never particularly brilliant in the pre-Christmas internationals - one acceptable performance in three is the general rule, with a display of uncommon brilliance sneaking in every now and again. Last November was poor even by Tricolore standards, with a defeat by Argentina and a slaughter by the All Blacks crammed into seven miserable days. The Six Nations champions may put those embarrassments behind them and hit this tournament running. There again...

2Can Bernard Laporte circumvent the laws of arithmetic? Try as he might, the French coach will struggle to change the fact that three into two won't go. Laporte has three wonderful half-backs at his disposal - Frederic Michalak and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde of Toulouse, Dimitri Yachvili of Biarritz. Each of them has Test experience at scrum-half and each kicks goals at international level. Michalak and Elissalde can play outside- half too. (Come to think of it, the extraordinary Michalak can also play at inside-centre, outside-centre and full-back). A French team containing all three would be something to see.

HIGHS AND LOWS

GRAND SLAMS 1968, 1977, 1981, 1987, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2004.

OUTRIGHT WINNERS 1959, 1961, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1977, 1981, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2004.

WOODEN SPOONS 1910, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1925, 1926, 1929, 1957.

IF FRANCE MADE MUSIC THEY'D BE... DJANGO REINHARDT

Ridiculously cool, touched with genius and utterly unreliable. Django did not play by the rules; he just played better than everyone else, making up his own rules as he went along. Frederic Michalak must be his alter ego. Come to think of it, the new Hot Club de France can be found in Toulouse, where the glitterati of French rugby - Michalak, Elissalde, Jauzion - are pushing back the boundaries.

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