France v Ireland, Six Nations Championship, February 13
O'Driscoll relishing Bastareaud challenge
February 12, 2010
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll exploded onto the international stage at the Stade de France in 2000 © Getty Images
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll has issued a warning to France's Mathieu Bastareaud ahead of their mouth-watering Six Nations showdown at the Stade de France on Saturday.
The Irish veteran, who notched a memorable hat-trick of tries on his first visit to Paris in 2000, is relishing the chance to tackle the 21-year-old rising star of French rugby who claimed a brace against Scotland in his side's Championship opener last weekend.
The sheer size of the blockbusting 17-stone Bastareaud, who sparked a diplomatic incident when he falsely claimed to have been attacked in New Zealand last summer, has attracted attention but O'Driscoll is confident he can handle his rival.
"The days of being frightened are well and truly behind me," said O'Driscoll. "Bastareaud is a powerful guy and is one of their in-form players. At that weight he might move well in a straight line but it doesn't always shift as well when you run to the side of it. I'll treat him like any other opponent - it just so happens that he's four stone heavier."
O'Driscoll's match-winning haul ten years ago is still fresh in the player's mind and he credits that historic 27-25 victory for transforming the mindset of the national side. Visits to the French capital had previously been greeted with apprehension by the Irish, who had to cast their minds back to 1972 for their last taste of success there. And while the Stade de France has remained an unhappy hunting ground since, O'Driscoll insists that day in March 2000 was a key moment that laid the ground for a decade of relative success.
"My life changed a good bit. I didn't realise how big a deal it was until I got home. It was a big change for Irish rugby," he said. "A lot of new guys had come in during that Six Nations and after winning the mentality and focus of the team changed, hopefully for ever. If it did anything positive it changed the mentality of us as a rugby team and rugby nation.
"Winning in 2000 was part of the catalyst to how the game for us has changed. It would be silly to say it wasn't. We hadn't won in Paris for so long and it gave us the belief we could win if we played well. There are only three of us remaining from 10 years ago, so there are a lot of guys who haven't won an international on French soil. These are little things that we want to pick off. It would mean a lot to the guys to win tomorrow."
France have been installed as tournament favourites but the Irish remain the key scalp in a contest that should ultimately decide the destination of the 2010 Six Nations crown. On their previous two visits, Ireland were guilty of making suicidal starts that enabled France to establish half-time leads of 29-3 and 19-6. Both matches saw Les Bleus pegged back to 43-31 in 2006 and 26-21 in 2008 thanks to a pair of courageous fightbacks, but those defeats have highlighted the need to avoid conceding early tries.
"It's disappointing that we haven't won in Paris since 2000. We hoped we'd have stemmed the tide of losses by now," he said. "There has been a mixture of games since then. Some of them have slipped away from us and we haven't been able to get back in while in others we have given them seemingly unassailable leads and nearly chased them down.
"A focus of ours will be making sure we start the game well and don't give them a score to defend. We don't have to accept that France are going to come out of the blocks, it's about trying to get out of the blocks ourselves and take the game to them."
Fellow Irish stalwart Ronan O'Gara has urged his team-mates to end their decade-long wait for success in France by exploding out of the blocks. "We've always given France too much of a head start when we've gone to Paris," said O'Gara.
"They're a formidable team when you let them play their game and they're on the front foot. We're usually 20-odd points down and while we manage to get back into it, it's always too late. The start is imperative this weekend. The first 20 minutes is exactly what we're looking at. From the national point of view it's been too long since we've won there so we're keen to address that."
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