INTERVIEW-Rugby-'Crisis, what crisis?' asks France defence guru

AUCKLAND, Sept 29 Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:41am BST

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AUCKLAND, Sept 29 (Reuters) - If there are deep divisions and rumblings of rebellion running through the French camp at the rugby World Cup, it is news to the squad's defence guru Dave Ellis at least.

Reports about rifts between France coach Marc Lievremont and his players have been rife in the French media since before the tournament started, sparking fears of a meltdown like that suffered by the country's team at last year's soccer World Cup.

Englishman Ellis, the 'Rosbif' who has been helping organise the French defence for the last 12 years, said any putative uprisings had entirely escaped his notice.

"It's quite interesting because lots of friends back home in England or in France send me text messages or emails asking how I am and how I'm coping with all the problems," he told Reuters.

"I have to say, what problems?"

The Yorkshireman, speaking before the team headed to Wellington for their final Pool A match against Tonga, said the perception of a troubled camp might come from Lievremont's sometimes abrasive relationship with the media.

"It's just that Marc at some of the press conferences gets agitated with some of the questions and that evidently makes people think there's a spanner in the works with everything else that's going on," he added.

"If there's problems going on, I certainly haven't seen them."

'DO OR DIE'

Ellis, one of the most highly-regarded defence coaches in rugby, thinks with victories over Japan and Canada and a defeat to the All Blacks, France's World Cup campaign had started pretty much as most would have predicted.

"If you are going to win the World Cup and you're in a pool with the All Blacks, you're never going to beat them twice in their own country," he said.

"It's a case of qualifying and if you finish first or second, once you get into the quarter-finals, it's do or die, you've got to win the game."

While disappointed with some of the defending against the All Blacks in last week's 37-17 defeat, Ellis said knowing France would still be alive even if they lost, and would be in the easier half of the draw, may have played a part in the loss.

"You don't know how that affected them, knowing that you've always got a second chance, a get-out-of-jail card if you like," he said.

"I imagine it's had some sort of effect, knowing that if you get to the quarter-finals you're going to be playing England and then in the semi-finals it's either South Africa-Australia or Ireland-Wales.

"No disrespect to Ireland or Wales but I know which everybody's choice would be."

France need just one point from their final pool match against the Tongans in Wellington on Saturday to progress to a likely quarter-final against England and Ellis said he thought they could still go all the way in the tournament.

"What you've got to look at with France is that with all the other major countries, they need to build consistency," he concluded.

"England need to build consistency and they've got to be getting better and better all the time. With the French, they have ups and downs but they can always pull one out of the bag.

"They can have a shocker, like in certain periods against the All Blacks, but then the following week they can come out and raise the standards and beat the best in the world.

"I think that's the worrying factor for the other teams, knowing that while France are in the competition, that could happen to anybody."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)

(For the sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport))

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