Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

It's all or nothing as Irish go for broke

O'Driscoll's men aim to show France the exit door this time

Fired-up Brian O'Driscoll limbers up in advance of tonight's crucial World Cup clash against France in Paris

The stage is set for the most brutal, desperate encounter of the World Cup yet.

France, the hosts, will go crashing out of the tournament should they lose to Ireland in front of a capacity 83,000-strong crowd at the Stade de France in Paris tonight (kick-off 8pm BST).

Eddie O'Sullivan's side are also looking down the barrel. A heavy defeat tonight, with no losing bonus point, would leave their hopes of reaching the quarter-final in tatters.

The pressure on both teams will be immense; the atmosphere unbearably tense.

But Ireland supporters can take comfort from a defiant message from the one player who strikes fear into the hearts of the French - Brian O'Driscoll.

And today he warned the hosts that such do-or-die occasions are what he lives for.

O'Driscoll was just a fresh-faced rookie when he announced his arrival on the world stage with a glorious hat-trick of tries at the Stade de France in 2000 in a famous 27-25 victory. It was only Ireland's second win in the French capital in a time span that has now stretched to 35 years.

The Ireland captain, angered by the French media's personal attacks on Ronan O'Gara and Eddie O'Sullivan and his side's poor form in the opening victories against Namibia and Georgia, is ready to inflict more pain on France, hinting that they might not have the bottle for tonight's showdown.

"You always enjoy playing on the biggest stages," said O'Driscoll. "That's when there's most pressure on you. The most level of expectation from yourself, from your peers, from the public in general.

"They're the days to really perform because they're the days when you can really make a name for yourself. Anyone can play when there's no pressure on them. I think it's the real players who step up to the plate when it's asked of them.

"It certainly won't be me to lead alone. We're going to have some big performances from some key players tonight. So, I'm hoping that from that point of view my leadership will be easy."

There is no doubting that should Ireland start well, France can expect the home crowd to turn on their players, given the humiliation of the opening day defeat to Argentina.

French coach Bernard Laporte has picked a strange line-up, bowing to public pressure for the inclusion of cult hero Sebastien Chabal out of position in the second row. Chabal's flowing locks and rampaging runs catch the eye, but his selection has completely blunted the French line-out.

France have also left their most potent attacking weapon, Yannick Jauzion, on the bench, an astonishing decision and now Shane Horgan will fancy his chances of exploiting his height advantage over Cedric Heymans on the wing. Expect a few cross-field kicks from O'Gara!

And while O'Sullivan has taken a huge punt in throwing Eoin Reddan into scrum-half with so little international experience under his belt, the Ireland coach will know there are chinks in the French line-up to exploit.

There is also the memory of the last-gasp defeat at Croke Park in February, which ultimately cost Ireland their first Grand Slam since 1948, to avenge.

Ireland have shown little evidence in their last two games that they are in the right state to land the killer punch. But against more familiar opponents and with their backs to the wall, there is a chance O'Sullivan's men will finally click. A victory would transform their hopes from fighting for their lives to topping the pool. Bring it on!

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