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Last chance for All Blacks coach Mitchell
John Mehaffey in Sydney | November 20, 2003 09:01 IST
New Zealand have one last chance to save their coach's job in today's rugby World Cup third place playoff against France.
The All Blacks have picked their strongest team for a game neither side really wants to play after losing to Australia and England, respectively, at the weekend. France have named a second-string side.
In contrast to his predecessors John Hart and Wayne Smith, who resigned immediately after big defeats, coach John Mitchell has said he wants to continue running the national side.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Chris Moller has called a news conference for Friday morning where he is expected to announce whether Mitchell and his assistant, Robbie Deans, will be asked to carry on when their contracts expire at the end of the year.
The portents are not good for either man. New Zealand were overwhelming favourites to defeat defending champions Australia on Saturday, but in the end were well beaten 22-10.
There was a predictable outcry at home in a country which has not won the World Cup in the national sport since 1987 and the calls for Mitchell's head have already started.
"We did win the Bledisloe Cup and the Tri-nations, so in a normal year we would rate it as a pretty good year," Moller told the New Zealand Press Association.
"That's been good for the brand, but I'm not for one moment denying that our number one priority this year was to win the rugby World Cup. Unfortunately we're not in a position to do that."
The All Blacks have made only two changes to their lineup, both of them enforced by injury. Steve Devine takes over from Justin Marshall at scrumhalf while reserve prop Kees Meeuws is replaced on the bench by Carl Hoeft.
Captain Reuben Thorne told reporters yesterday that it had been difficult at times leading the All Blacks. "But it's something I love doing, being an All Black, and the captaincy has come along with that," he said.
France's manager Jo Maso said his team would be treating the match seriously, even though only New Zealand-born centre Tony Marsh and prop Sylvain Marconnet remain from the 24-7 loss to England on Sunday.
"Five of the players who started Sunday's semi-final against England have been ruled out or were not available and most of the others were exhausted," Maso explained.
"That's why we decided to field fresh players against the All Blacks, but make no mistake, we are going to play that game to win because it's always an honour to face New Zealand."