"We spoke to both the All Black captain, Taine Randell, and the All Black coach, John Hart, straight after last Sunday's game, and there were no complaints about foul play then," said Villepreux, clearly exasperated that his side's focus on tomorrow's final with Australia should be deflected by mutterings about biting, gouging, butting and every other dark art perpetrated by rugby players down the ages. "If the direct participants cannot say immediately that there is a problem, then it is really bad. I was a rugby player, and now I am a coach. If I thought that one of my players had done the things we are evidently being accused of, he would not be in the team, even for a World Cup final."
Jo Maso, the French manager, was equally put out but managed to keep his feelings under a degree of control. "Randell, at least, is an honourable man," he said of the All Black No 8 who had been at the centre of the rumpus involving Franck Tournaire, the French prop cited for, and acquitted of, alleged biting earlier this week. "He had the decency to say publicly that he was not bitten during the semi-final. This should be the end of the matter, surely."
It should indeed. The All Black management did the tournament no favours by waiting for someone else - in this case, a New Zealand television journalist - to make their anti-French running for them. Josh Kronfeld, Anton Oliver and Byron Kelleher were all named yesterday as victims of Tricolore thuggery, but no one in the aggrieved camp thought fit to name a perpetrator. It took Raphael Ibanez, the French captain, to draw a line under a sorry affair, badly mishandled by both the New Zealand top brass and the tournament's disciplinary officials. "It is of no importance to me," he said. "I have a final to think about."
Once the three French casualties from the semi-final - the full-back Xavier Garbajosa, the blind-side flanker Marc Lievremont and the No 8 Christophe Juillet - were passed fit yesterday, it was a straightforward matter for Maso and company to name an unchanged side for tomorrow's showpiece. They resisted the temptation to start Olivier Brouzet in the second row, but Abdel Benazzi and Fabien Pelous continue in the engine room. "In the three previous World Cups, the final was not the best match of the tournament," said Maso. "Tomorrow, we will try to make this final something to remember."
FRANCE (World Cup final v Australia, Cardiff, tomorrow): X Garbajosa; P Bernat-Salles, R Dourthe, E Ntamack, C Dominici; C Lamaison, F Galthie; C Soulette, R Ibanez (capt), F Tournaire, A Benazzi, F Pelous, M Lievremont, O Magne, C Juillet. Replacements: U Mola, S Glas, S Castaignede, A Costes, O Brouzet, P De Villiers, M Dal Maso.Reuse content