Lievremont is the surprise choice for French rebuilding

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The Independent Online

If many people thought France were too predictable during the World Cup they certainly pulled a surprise yesterday by appointing a new coach straight from leftfield.

The former international flanker Marc Lievremont replaces Bernard Laporte, who joined the government this week as a junior minister for sport, and beat other touted candidates such as the Sale coach Philippe Saint-André, Toulouse's Guy Noves, Stade Français coach Fabien Galthié and Biarritz coach Patrice Lagisquet.

Lievremont, 38, won 23 France caps between 1995 and 1999. As a coach, he has guided Dax back to the first division. He will be assisted by former France wing Emile Ntamack and Didier Retière, who will be in charge of the backs and forwards respectively.

Ntamack made 46 appearances for France from 1994 to 2000. He and Retière were the joint coaches of the France Under-21 side that won the world championship last year.

France need to undertake a rebuilding process with several players, among them hooker and captain Raphael Ibanez, expected to retire from the international game.

The new coaching staff also need to define a playing style. Laporte faced criticism after France concentrated on defending and kicking instead of relying on their trademark flair during the World Cup, where they were eliminated by England in the semi-finals.

The Newcastle full-back Matthew Burke will miss the rest of the season with knee ligament damage. Burke, who helped Australia win the World Cup in 1999, sustained the injury during Sunday's 33-20 Guinness Premiership defeat to Bath. The 34-year-old ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee midway through the second half.

The Newcastle director of rugby, John Fletcher, said: "We're absolutely devastated by the news, from a team point of view and for Matt." Burke has made 81 appearances, scoring 430 points including 26 tries, in his three seasons at the Falcons.

Harlequins centre Stuart Abbott has announced his retirement due to a shoulder injury. The former England international, who was part of the 2003 World Cup-winning squad, suffered the injury at the end of last season.

The 29-year-old had an operation and despite rehabilitation with Harlequins' medical staff, he has been forced to retire from the game. The Harlequins director of rugby, Dean Richards, said: "It is very upsetting to see a player of Stuart's calibre forced to retire early because of injury. Stuart was an outstanding all-round footballer, who was great in defence and attack. He will be missed at Quins."

Abbott had previously played for Wasps before joining Quins in 2006, when injuries began to blight his career. A Premiership winner with Wasps in 2003 and 2004, and the Heineken Cup in 2004, he was awarded an MBE after his participation in England's World Cup win.

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