France's Lievremont stands down with pride intact

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France's Aurelien Rougerie is tackled by New Zealand All Blacks Kieran Read during their Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Marc Lievremont's last match in charge of France ended with a narrow 8-7 defeat to New Zealand in a gripping World Cup final which ensured the beleaguered coach can leave international rugby with his pride intact.

The outspoken, straight-talking Lievremont is set to be replaced by former France winger Philippe Saint-Andre.

Lievremont took over from Bernard Laporte after the 2007 World Cup and his tenure was inconsistent, with a Six Nations Championship Grand Slam in 2010, and humiliating losses to Italy in the Six Nations and to Tonga at this tournament.

His international playing career as a backrower for France ended with a loss to Australia in the 1999 Rugby World Cup final. A dozen years later he fell just short again.

"I feel immensely sad and immensely proud at the same time," Lievremont said after Sunday's defeat. "People have always said and thought that the All Blacks were the greatest team of all time, but tonight I think it's the France team that was great, and even immense. It's tough to take, we needed a little bit more."

Lievremont, who turns 43 on Friday, has yet to give any indication over his future plans.

"I have often spoken about emotional contrasts over the four years I've been in charge, and at this World Cup," he said. "This is the case once again tonight."

Lievremont's World Cup has been almost like a separate event in itself.

His sometimes brutal chiding of his players, the constant talk of rifts — his harsh criticism riled established backrower Imanol Harinordoquy — and his frequent sarcastic barbs toward the media have provided many headlines.

He made brave, unconventional choices from the outset of his tenure as coach — picking Morgan Parra, then an untried 19-year-old, to play scrumhalf in his first match in charge.

At this tournament, Lievremont went against the grain again, dropping regular flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc and converting Parra into a No. 10. Parra played through the knockout stage until he was injured in the first half of the final, bringing Trinh-Duc back into the equation.

Lievremont's man-management style was also unconventional, sometimes brutal, but proved effective at times.

Lievremont dropped Harinordoquy, one of the best loose forwards in the world, to the bench. Harinordoquy responded with a performance of incredible intensity when he was recalled in the quarterfinal win over England.

Parra, meanwhile, glided with ease into his new position of flyhalf, kicking three nerveless penalties in the semifinal against Wales and earning lavish praise from Jonny Wilkinson and Dan Carter — two of the best No. 10s in the game.

Not many coaches would dare to call their players "spoilt brats" a week before the biggest game of their lives.

But that's exactly what Lievremont did after some of them defied his orders and went out celebrating late into the Auckland night after the 9-8 semifinal win over Wales.

Even if that served to widen the gap between Lievremont and his players, it also brought them closer together and created a siege mentality in the days leading up to the final.

"They'd made a lot of promises to each other, and I think they kept their promises," Lievremont said.

His tactical choices were often questioned, but when it mattered the most he got it right.

"We were in the game and well organized," Lievremont said. "The longer the game went on with the scores tight we knew they would starting doubting, and that's what happened."

It may take him a while to realize how close he came to becoming the first French coach to win the World Cup.

"It will sink in later," Lievremont said.