Does anybody remember the 2002 Football World Cup? I do. France were amongst the favourites having won the previous tournament, yet they failed to even register a goal before being dumped out in the pool stages. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the same happened in RWC 07?
The sad thing is, sure we’d all have a laugh, but part of me says this World Cup just wouldn’t be the same if the French were ousted before the knockouts. Gone would be the enthusiasm of the host country’s public; forgotten would be the magic and flair of their backs; and lost would be the hope of a performance of typical Gallic flair and perfection rarely seen since the ‘99 semis. Sure, Chabal would pursue his calling as Javere in Les Miserables (wouldn’t he be ideal for the role), but the rest of us would be bereft of enthusiasm having witnessed the exit of one of the only teams who on their day could seriously challenge the mighty All Blacks.
So there we have it. France vs Ireland: Gallic Flair vs Celtic passion?
Well step back into history and this would certainly be an accurate summation of the teams. However, recent games (pre-World Cup) have shown the French to have gained an ounce of consistency under Laporte’s regime, whilst the skills of O’Driscoll, D’Arcy and Murphy have ignited the Irish and brought a refreshing creativity and attacking threat to the traditional power of their forwards.
The problem is that both teams have stuttered at this World Cup and shown none of their recent form coming into the competition – the question coming from the French press is has Laporte stifled the instincts of his players too much? Similarly, the question coming from other corners is why the hell has Geordan Murphy been left out of the squad? Obviously both sides are tending towards caution.
In complete contrast, the epic Croke Park battle in this year’s 6 Nations saw the two sides, if not at their peak for the entire 80mins, then not far off it. Only the same intensity will inspire one of these teams to victory, and with it the possibility of qualification for the knockout stages. Defeat, and ejection from the competition would be nothing short of catastrophe for either nation, yet the stunning Argentinean display on opening night has paved the way for a potentially mouthwatering clash with Ireland for qualification should the French win, or the possibility of a French capitulation before the last Pool D match is even played should the Irish win.
So French pragmatism vs Irish tenacity?
All fingers are crossed that both sides will shake off the distractions of the previous games and unleash their instincts in one almighty, passionate clash.
If France were to lose? Well, my disappointment would be masked with a smile. As they say across the Channel, C’est la vie!
By Justin Aylward