AUCKLAND, New Zealand, September 27 – Italy were looking to keep their World Cup hopes alive against the United States on Tuesday, while French players denied there had been an “uprising” in their camp against coach Marc Lievremont.
Nick Mallett’s Six Nations wooden spoonists were preparing to take on the United States in Nelson in a vital Pool C match.
A win, preferably with the maximum five points for scoring four tries or more would set the Italians up nicely for a tilt at Ireland in Wellington on Sunday with the winner going forward to the quarter-finals.
The day’s other game saw the first ever World Cup clash between two teams from eastern Europe with Georgia and Romania both bent on grabbing the win that would turn tournament failure into success.
There was further intrigue in the French camp at Auckland with former skipper Lionel Nallet denying reports there had been a players “uprising” against Lievremont.
“I have been hearing stories, rumours about little uprisings by the players and a lot of nonsense like that,” said Nallet who was the French captain under Lievremont from January 2008 until March 2009.
“At the moment there is a very good atmosphere in our squad and we are all united with each other.
“Yesterday we had a debriefing after the match (37-17 loss to New Zealand) with the coaches and it went off very well.”
Stories about discontent in the 30-strong French squad were circulating even before the French got to New Zealand with an unnamed French player quoted as saying that 25 of them were against their coach.
“That makes me laugh,” said Nallet. “If we were 25 against Marc Lievremont, we would all have been aware of that by now.”
What is clear is that Lievremont has had his problems with the press and with some of his players since they have been in New Zealand.
The Australians, taking a break down in the South Island at the mountain resort of Hanmer Springs had another injury blow with the news that No.8 Wycliff Palu will miss the rest of the tournament with a hamstring strain.
Palu had scans of the hamstring injury he injured in Australia’s 67-5 defeat of the United States in Wellington last Friday and they showed that he would be unable to play for about six weeks.
Coach Robbie Deans said he will not be calling for an immediate replacement from Australia, with fit-again Scott Higginbotham in line for a run in the Wallabies’ final group match against Russia in Nelson on Saturday.
“It’s pretty disappointing, it was good to get an opportunity and I’ve just got to move on from here,” Palu told reporters.
While Palu will be replaced in Australia’s 30-man squad, Deans said the selectors will be taking their time with that decision, and may even delay any call until after the match against Russia.
South Africa and France both named their teams for their final group stage games at the weekend.
The defending champions, who are unbeaten now in 11 World Cup games, named their strongest available team for the Pool D game against Samoa in Auckland on Friday.
Lock Victor Matfield is back after injury replacing John Smit as skipper. Smit drops down to the bench to make way for in-form hooker Bismarck du Plessis.
French coach Lievremont made four changes, one positional, to his starting lineup for the Pool A clash with Tonga in Wellington on Saturday.
In come hooker William Servat in place of Dimitri Szarzewski, number eight Raphaël Lakafia instead of Louis Picamoles and winger Alexis Palisson, taking over from Maxime Médard, who moves to full-back with Damien Traille dropping out.
But Lievremont stuck by his controversial decision to play regular scrum-half Morgan Parra at fly-half, with Dimitri Yachvili sharing the half-back duties.
France need just a single point against the Tongans to ensure their qualification for the quarter-finals where their probable opponents will be England.