Despite losing two pool games and struggling against the 14 men of Wales, France woke up on Sunday morning, hung-over and dreaming of a World Cup final, less than 14 days after being written off by many.
Internal strife has become a stable mate of French World Cup campaigns in recent years, with the black and white published criticisms from Marc Lievremont mirroring the achievements of Raymond Domenech’s efforts with the football side in South Africa last year in alienating and isolating a very talented squad.
A group defeat to New Zealand might have been expected, although the French do have a habit of making life difficult for the All Blacks however the abject performance against Tonga, spoke volumes for a squad that didn’t seem happy or comfortable in the blue shirt.
With Ireland and Wales dominating the Northern Hemisphere’s praise allocation in equal measure and the disciplinary issues that have dominated England trips down South, the big decision to be made by pundits and fans alike was whether it would be a Green or Red shirt lining out in the final.
While Wales tore Ireland’s World cup ambitions apart last weekend, Alain Roland did the same to the Welsh dreams on Saturday with the sending off of Sam Warburton and while the player will no doubt have been devastated by the decision, he can feel somewhat vindicated by the fact that he was more a victim of extreme application of the rules rather than maliciousness.
France meanwhile rebounded from their group nightmares to beat an average England team, and to summarise their world cup so far we have seen 160 minutes of easy rugby against Japan and Canada, a dominant 40 minutes against England coupled with a dogged 60 minutes against Wales.
Their performances are hardly worthy of silver medal’s let alone the highly coveted Webb Ellis trophy.
The dust had barely settled on the Welsh performance when we woke up on Sunday morning to more outbursts from Lievremont, who took to calling the players that disobeyed his orders to stay in and instead celebrated their semi final with a night on the town, as “spoilt brats”.
An unready unhappy camp no doubt about to get even more unhappy, all of which appears to point to an even more unlikely French final win as the more at ill with their coach they appear the more lady luck seems to take the side of Lievremont.
While the French are renowned for their often arrogant swagger on the pitch their decision to take that arrogance off the field and prove to everyone that they don’t have to be in good form, in fact they don’t even all have to be talking to reach a World cup final takes things to another level.
World cup history in all codes of sports is littered with talented yet un-fancied teams, out of form and written off reaching the last two of their respective sports, however sticking with Rugby, you only have to look back four years ago to the 2007 edition of the Rugby World cup when England lost 36-0 to South Africa in the pool stages only to bounce back with determined, if not pretty, performances against Australia and France to reach the final before they succumbed to the Springboks once again in the final.
There are few teams able to contend with the All Blacks when they are on fire however there are two, Australia and France, who are able to deal with a New Zealand side not firing on all cylinders and with an expectant home looking for success with style, Lievremont could be the man to break Kiwi hearts.