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French rugby players ahead of schedule

MARCOUSSIS, France, August 3 – France coach Marc Lievremont said the progress of the squad in their World Cup training camp had exceeded his expectations as they bid to land the trophy for the first time when the tournament gets underway in New Zealand on September 9.

The 42-year-old former backrow forward – who played in the 1999 World Cup final loss to Australia – admitted that the players were tired but they were putting everything into the training sessions.

“Yes I am satisfied with the way training has been going, actually it is above my expectations,” said Lievremont, who despite landing the 2010 Six Nations Grand Slam has had his position called into question since with a series of disappointing performances.

“It is true we are not in the habit of this rhythm of work, to have the time to work, to develop the athletic qualities, cohesion, to exchange with the players over the strategy.

“I was nevertheless very careful as we had chosen a very ambitious preparatory programme.

“Everything is going very well for the moment. What is interesting, is that the players have stuck to everything that we have proposed, even when we have urged them to increase the physical work despite their being a certain weariness and general fatigue.

“But they have already accrued the benefits.”

Lievremont, who was a surprise choice to replace Bernard Laporte after the 2007 World Cup, getting the nod ahead of more experienced candidates Fabien Galthie and Philippe Saint-Andre, said that the two warm-up matches against Ireland in Bordeaux on August 13 and in Dublin a week later would be ideal preparation.

“The warm-up matches are more than just friendlies,” said Lievremont.

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“They are the only two matches before the World Cup. We need to see if the players have the capacity to maintain the rhythm, if things are functioning alright, to see how we fare against counter attacks by a really good side, and to see the enthusiasm and aggressivity of the players.

“We are anticipating two really beautiful rugby matches while acknowledging that, up until the first pool matches, there are bound to be errors and not everything will be perfect.”

Lievremont, five of whose brothers and one sister have all played rugby at a high level, said that they had not got as far as selecting their favoured starting XV yet.

“We are not yet into that dynamic in terms of discussing it daily because we are permanently changing the teams both in the gym and on the pitch,” said the Senegal-born son of a French Army officer.

“We are working towards a goal of having a squad packed with quality.

“Afterwards, of course, we have to make a choice. I hope, and I have told the players this, that we will go as far as possible with 30 players.”

However, Lievremont’s often tense relations with the press surfaced over the question regarding the status of who was number one at scrum-half, Morgan Parra or veteran Dimitri Yachvili.

Parra had become the undisputed number one until his form dipped last season, after an outstanding previous campaign which saw him inspire the French to the Grand Slam and Clermont to their first ever domestic championship.

Meanwhile, 30-year-old Yachvili has fought his way back into contention.

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“Regarding Morgan Parra, well since the Six Nations, you have bored me with the debate about his rivalry with Dimitri (Yachvili).

“We have decided to rotate them and to continue like that in the first matches.”

France begin their World Cup campaign against Japan in Auckland on September 10.

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