France expecting victory on southern hemisphere tour

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The Independent Online

French rugby bosses expect national coach Marc Lievremont and his side to return from their three-test tour of the southern hemisphere in June with at least one victory.

France leave for New Zealand on 2 June and will play three tests, two against the All Blacks - at Dunedin on 13 June and Wellington a week later - and one against Australia in Sydney on 27 June.

Lievremont said in a newspaper report he is still battling the French Top 14 championship system as he bids to create a world-beating side ahead of the World Cup in 2011.

As an example, Lievremont hasn't had the France squad at his side since the day after France beat Italy in their final Six Nations match, which left them a disappointing third in the tournament, on 23 March.

Also, a first group of French players will leave for New Zealand after the Top 14 semifinals on 2 June while a second will leave on 7 June, a day after the Top 14 final.

That has not stopped French rugby federation president Pierre Camou from demanding results.

Camou said today he had plenty of respect for their southern hemisphere opponents but added that the time for using overseas tests as experiments "was over".

"Despite the respect I have for our opponents, I'm expecting excellence and victory (from France). The period for experimenting is over. The constraints of playing away from home no longer constitute an excuse," said Camou.

Lievremont is set to name his 30-man squad tomorrow, but a day before he voiced his beliefs, and fears, in an interview with L'Equipe sports daily.

Lievremont said that because of Top 14 pressure he has dropped carrying out fitness tests on club-playing internationals as well as reducing the number of times they are called to the national team's base at Marcoussis, near Paris.

But he admitted he would like to break free of restrictions, such as those caused by the fact many of his internationals are concentrated at union giants Toulouse, whom he says don't make his job easier.

"I hope things are going to get better," he told L'Equipe sports daily.

"The difficulty partly is because the way the players are spread out in the (Top 14) championship, and that a lot of internationals play at the one club (Toulouse), with whom relations are not always easy."

Nevertheless Lievremont feels that since the Six Nations he has seen the "backbone" of a promising side emerge.

And despite having to have two welcome parties for his squad in New Zealand, Lievremont is secretly dreaming Les Bleus can begin building for the 2011 World Cup with a confidence-building victory against the All Blacks or the Wallabies.

He said compared to this time last year the France squad is like "day and night".

"Since last autumn we've had a lot of continuity. We've really found the backbone (of the squad)," he added.

"It (a victory) would be magnificent. In any case, somewhere along the line we will need a victory like that ... we still need quite a few things.

"But we still need things to click into gear, (to claim) a victory. Not at any price, but a victory nonetheless.

"For the players, for the staff, for our confidence, to allow us to build (the squad)."

This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald.