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Lievremont rallies his troops

MARCOUSSIS, January 31- France have to put up a good defence of their Six Nations Grand Slam title if they are to make up the ground they have lost in their World Cup preparations, said coach Marc Lievremont.

The 42-year-old has seen both his and his side’s star wane since they secured their first Grand Slam since 2004.

A disappointing summer tour saw a 41-13 thrashing by Argentina before the year ended with a record 59-16 home humiliation by Australia.

Lievremont – a surprise choice ahead of such rivals as Fabien Galthie and Philippe Saint-Andre when he succeeded Bernard Laporte after the 2007 World Cup – is searching for France to rediscover the form they showed in last year’s Six Nations.

"We have lost ground since the end of the Six Nations, that makes it eight months we have lost ground," said Lievremont, a former France international backrow forward who played in the 1999 World Cup final defeat by Australia.

"With six months to go to the World Cup, I would have liked to already have the 30-man squad finalised, so I would be able to play all of them during the Six Nations because, I think, that would allow us to prepare in a more effective way for the World Cup.

"However, that is not possible."

Lievremont, who has taken on a more dominant role since the Australia debacle, assuming more responsibility than he had done before when he left Emile N’tamack to coach the backs and Didier Retiere to oversee the scrum, said that they would work intensively throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s opening match with Scotland.

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"With regards to strategy, we have worked on a play book with all that we have seen since we took over," said the coach.

"Whether that be the placings at the kick-off, the principles of counter-attacking, the restart of play…we will go through them little by little during the week.

"The players can also read and revise it when they go back to their rooms."

Lievremont, who refused calls from certain quarters for him to go after the Australian defeat, said that it was vital to rekindle confidence.

"The tour in June and then the huge defeat against Australia blew away a lot of the certainties on the level of our morale which had been borne out of the Six Nations," he said.

"We have to rediscover our team spirit. This was the case in the first two weeks of November even if the manner in which we played against Fiji (34-12) and Argentina (15-9) didn’t suggest that.

"I felt last Friday that the players were blooming, and relaxed like they used to be.

"We are going to do our utmost so the guys get their confidence back."

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