Le bleu et le vert
February 11, 2010
Brian O'Driscoll made his name against France in 2000 © Getty Images
Ireland travel to Paris to face France on Saturday in what could be the pivotal fixture in this season's Six Nations. In our latest Scrum Seven we take a look back at a colourful rivalry that has seen last-gasp tries, famous comebacks and a day at the races.
France 25-27 Ireland, Stade de France, 2000
Ireland arrived in Paris unheralded for their opening fixture against France in the newly-coined Six Nations. The 1990s had been a miserable time for Irish rugby, indeed they hadn't beaten France since 1983. Keith Wood, their brilliant hooker and captain, led the charge but the magic came from the man wearing No.13.
Brian O'Driscoll was the ripe old age of 21 and was winning his 11th Test cap, having made his debut a year earlier on tour to Australia. The Stade de France crowd saw the birth of an Irish legend and arguably the finest player of the professional era as the Leinsterman carved France apart for a hat-trick of tries. The victory was based on a strong team performance though, as Ireland hung in with a France side intent on bludgeoning them into submission. Replacement David Humphreys kicked the winning points, but it was O'Driscoll, in his ill-fitting jersey, who stole the glory.
Ireland 17-20 France, Croke Park, 2007
Croke Park has served Ireland wonderfully as their temporary home, but their introduction to the Gaelic Sport mecca was a nightmare for players and fans. The French side had read up on the sporting and cultural history of the giant stadium in the build up to the match and left a post-script of their own by snatching victory away from the home side.
With Ronan O'Gara's boot controlling the second-half Ireland opened up a narrow, but comfortable, 17-13 lead as time ticked way. Tired bodies littered the field and it was then that Toulouse wing Vincent Clerc pounced. The electric finisher skipped through five tackles to score the defining try, sucking the atmosphere out of the stadium.
France 44-5 Ireland, Stade de France, 2002
France etched their names into the history books with this result, a hammering dished out after consecutive defeats to Ireland and the seal on the first Six Nations Grand Slam. Reigning champions England had earlier been dispatched on the same ground, 20-15, but France definitely saved the best for last.
Grizzled flanker Serge Bestsen scored a brace of tries, his first after only three minutes, and his efforts were matched by fullback Nicolas Brusque. A youthful Aurelien Rougerie completed the scoring in a classical French display, where Ireland were squeezed mercilessly by a heavyweight French pack and torn apart by a backline enjoying the Parisian sunshine. France coach Bernard Laporte made it sound extremely simple, "We are very happy because we have lost to Ireland for the last two years and we decided this time to win," he said.
Ireland 30-21 France, Croke Park, 2009
Players and coaches always attempt to play down the influence of revenge on games, but it was a notion hard to escape as France arrived at Croke Park in 2009. With Clerc's try still hanging over their collective head, the Irish squad fought tooth and nail for victory against a team that refused to concede ground despite Ireland's manoeuvring of the scoreboard.
Jamie Heaslip cancelled out Imanol Harinordoquy's early score with a deft sidestep before O'Driscoll rolled back the years with a trademark jag to the line. Maxime Medard bit back for Les Bleus but Gordon D'Arcy popped off the bench to have the final say and put Ireland on the road to the Grand Slam. "You can't win a Six Nations in the first game but you can lose it in the first game," O'Driscoll said. How right he was.
France 6-13 Ireland, Stade Olympique Yves du Manoir, Colombes, 1948
Their trip to face France in Colombes was the final New Year's Day fixture in the history of the International Championship, and brought the first leg of a famous Grand Slam. Wing Barney Mullen was the hero, scoring a try and two conversions.
France 43-31 Ireland, Stade de France, 2006
It was 29-3 at half-time, 43-3 after 48 minutes and 43-31 at full-time. In one of the most riotously entertaining Six Nations games in recent memory, the teams took turns to attack with France going first before Ireland decided that they were tired of waiting under the posts. David Marty and Cedric Heymans both scored braces for France, with Rougerie and Olivier Magne adding two more, as Ireland were loose and self-destructive in the first-half.
Ireland bit back as fly-half Ronan O'Gara sparked them into life, D'Arcy also scoring after a first-half in which he had done little aside from knock-on, before an O'Driscoll break put Andrew Trimble under the posts. Alas, for Ireland the pace of the comeback was unsustainable, France regained their shape, O'Driscoll limped from the field and the game slowly slipped away from the visitors. As one post-match interviewer described it, "un match bizarre".
Ireland 24-0 France, Mardyke, Cork, 1913
Following their admission to Test rugby, Ireland enjoyed early dominance over France. In their first six meetings the Irish were undefeated; including their 1913 meeting in Cork which yielded their best ever result.
It's testament to the later brilliance of France that this remains the Irish high-point and it is a world away from the spectacle seen by 80,000 strong crowds in Dublin or Paris. On Easter Monday at the Mardyke Ground, 6000 spectators watched a game that kicked off in the morning to allow the crowd, players and officials to enjoy an afternoon at the races. Joseph Quinn scored a hat-trick of tries for Ireland. All in all, a civilised affair.