Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Time to dish out Paris pain

History boys: The Ireland class of 2000 celebrate their win in Paris
History boys: The Ireland class of 2000 celebrate their win in Paris
Carrick RFC president John Strange, Irish and British Lions legend Willie John McBride and Ulster star Paddy McAllister

Ireland legend Willie-John McBride will be "very disappointed" if Joe Schmidt's current crop cannot replicate the feat of the 1972 side by winning in Paris against France on Saturday.

McBride was part of the team that won at Colombes 42 years ago – alongside other notable figures such as Mike Gibson, Fergus Slattery and Tom Kiernan – but Ireland have only enjoyed one Test victory on French soil since, that triumph coming courtesy of a Brian O'Driscoll hat-trick in 2000.

And while the '72 squad were denied their shot at what was then a Five Nations title after Scotland and Wales would not fulfil their fixtures in Dublin due to the political situation, the 2014 edition know that, barring a 50-point win by England over Italy earlier in the day, victory on Saturday would seal a first piece of silverware since the 2009 Grand Slam.

Speaking at the launch of the 42nd annual Guinness Carrick Sevens, McBride (pictured Carrick RFC president John Strange and Ulster's Paddy McAllister) said: "France haven't been playing well and they must be very worried. Ireland are full of confidence and so they should be.

"If you go back to the early part of the season against the All Blacks, nobody gave them any chance there and they should have won that game. Since then they've given Scotland a hiding, Wales a hiding, and Italy a hiding, so if they get in that mood in Paris they'll win no question. I'd be very disappointed if they don't win."

McBride has been impressed by what he has seen of Ireland over the past five months and hailed the work of new coach Joe Schmidt. The legend who won 63 Irish caps commented: "The new coach seems to have rejuvenated a lot of boys.

"You have Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy playing as well as they ever have. As well as that, he's brought on a lot of the young players so he's certainly been good for Ireland."

France have veered between the enigmatic and the dysfunctional of late and, if not for a late Gael Fickou try sealing a win against England, the considerable murmurs of discontent would no doubt be even more prevalent.

While that victory, as well as unconvincing successes over Italy and Scotland, have left them with remote hopes of winning the title, McBride feels that the home crowd could desert their team at the first sign of strife.

"France is an amazing place to play because the crowd will turn on their own team just as quickly as they will the opposition if they're not giving them the game they want and if they're not winning," said the captain of the British and Irish Lions undefeated tour to South Africa in 1974. "I think what Ireland need to do is get scores on the board early. We had a good record against them in Dublin but we could never get past them in Paris apart from that one game in '72 and there hasn't been much success since so it's obviously a tough place to go.

"These records though, with the confidence the boys are playing with, aren't something they should be thinking about."

Even with the championship on the line, the furore surrounding Brian O'Driscoll's final appearance for Ireland has been impossible to ignore and McBride – who against France enjoyed a fairytale ending to his own international career when he scored his only Ireland try in his final Lansdowne Road Test appearance – feels it would be a fitting end to the great man's glittering career if he is on the victorious side on Saturday.

"It would be brilliant if he could finish with a win in Paris because he deserves it," added McBride. "The way he was treated over the summer with the Lions was disgraceful, just thrown out really, and it would be super if he finished with a championship.

"He was a great captain when you look at his record and he's a great role model for any of the young players coming through. He's been a tremendously skillful player which isn't very common nowadays. It's all about big men knocking big men over now in our game, and he can do that as well, but he is incredible on the ball. He's been great for rugby."

* Willie John McBride was attending the Guinness Carrick Sevens launch on behalf of the charity Wooden Spoon for whom he acts an Honorary President. His organisation hugely benefits from the competition which will this year run from Friday the 2nd to Sunday the 4th of May. Attracting teams from all over the world, the tournament continues to be one of the premier sevens competitions held on the island of Ireland.

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