Marc Lievremont backs France to upset New Zealand

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The Independent Online

France coach Marc Lievremont has described New Zealand's World Cup semi-final destruction of Australia as "exceptional".

But he maintains that he has the belief France can tear up the formbook and produce one of the international game's great upsets.

While New Zealand have arrived at Sunday's final unbeaten - their pool stage results included a victory over Les Bleus - France suffered defeat against Tonga and scraped past semi-final opponents Wales by a point despite their opponents having captain Sam Warburton sent off.

"We are in the final match and every time we play them (New Zealand) it is the same thing," said Lievremont, whose team will play in their changed kit of all white.

"They are always the favourites, but I believe in my team and I believe we can win."

Lievremont has named an unchanged side for the final, although he will not confirm the composition of his replacements' bench until later this week.

"It is always the same when it comes down to the All Blacks," he added.

"In the first half of the match [against Australia] they were very strong and aggressive and they were impressive. In the second half it was the same thing and the All Blacks dominated.

"You know, I expect the best from the All Blacks, and I think they played their best rugby in that match. They were exceptional."

France's World Cup campaign has been littered with constant suggestions of rifts in the camp between Lievremont and his players.

And he fanned the flames himself earlier this weekend when he described some of them as "spoiled brats" for going out to celebrate the victory over Wales when he asked them not to.

But Lievremont said today: "I think I said those things to put pressure on them.

"And when I read the headlines the next day and saw my words in the written press, I thought to myself that I had missed an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.

"What we need to do now is focus on our solidarity and our aggression."

Lievremont will become the first man to feature in a World Cup final as a player and coach this weekend - he was part of Les Bleus' beaten 1999 team - but he added: "It is very difficult to compare the two roles.

"But often what it comes down to is the small details.

"I think my first words to the players when we came to the World Cup was that everything counts, mentally and physically, and we need to be able to do everything in our power to win this match."

France lock Lionel Nallet, meanwhile, said Lievremont's criticism of players had not affected preparations for the final.

"I did not appreciate it at all, but that is just my opinion," he claimed.

"We already knew that the week was going to be complicated enough, so perhaps there was no reason to add to that pressure.

"My focus is on Sunday's match, and there are certain things that I will use to my advantage in terms of preparation.

"It wasn't anything that unsettled me in any particular way. I would like to repeat once again that it was not important."