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The Lievremont cure for Twickenham debacle

HOW do you lead your team to a Roman recovery from a Twickenham thrashing that dashed your hopes of glory after you had outplayed defending champion Wales?

France coach Marc Lievremont, whose team meets Italy in Rome today, opted for an homeopathic cure which started at the final whistle of last Sunday's 10-34 rout by England.

He began by calming down so he could keep his composure during the post-match press conference, overcome his disappointment without hiding it and admit that "England gave us a real smack in the face."

The first phase of analysis came in the privacy of a hotel with a study of the video of the game and a first discussion with the players.

Next stage was to sleep on it, or at least try.

It helped Lievremont to remember he was not Bernard Laporte and would not, therefore, order half the team to change their plane tickets to rejoin their clubs first thing in the morning.

Instead, he injected some generosity and solidarity into his men and retained the 23-player squad. "We have to take collective responsibility and I don't want to part with some players in a rush without analyzing with them the reasons for such a defeat," Lievremont explained.

Back in Paris, a shock treatment started with collective and individual video tapes running and endless talks.

"I watched the game three times on Monday evening," admitted Sebastien Chabal.

"We carried out the autopsy. We tried to be honest and true," said assistant coach Didier Retiere.

This phase lasted for two days on Monday and Tuesday. The Marcoussis training camp only opened its gates to let Frederic Michalak, recalled to replace injured scrumhalf Sebastien Tillous-Borde, meet the press.

On Wednesday, came the team announcement, an important moment of the cure.

There were four switches between starters and replacements. Chabal, who had been castigated by the media, was still in the starting XV switching from back to second row.

After a fierce training session, the players had their first opportunity to express themselves in informal discussions with journalists.

Self-criticism helped to overcome the guilt syndrome. "We were ridiculous. It was the worst game in my career," said wing Cedric Heymans.

The words redemption and pride were on everyone's lips. The cure was over.

Staff and players will have a check-up at the Stadio Flaminio today.


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