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Six Nations: French test passed by class of ‘72

By Peter Bills

They turned up, as ever more in hope than expectation. After all, when Ireland went to Paris to play France in 1972, they travelled in the knowledge that no Ireland team had won in the French capital since the 1951/2 season.

No matter. The Irish team led by Tom Kiernan beat France at the old Stade Colombes by 14-9 that year.

Willie John McBride this week recalled that trip 38 years ago and analysed the team-mates who helped him make Irish rugby history...

“When you went to Paris in those days it was unreal. You were whizzed around from one place to the other, we couldn’t speak the language and it was all very amateurish.

“In fact, it was so amateur it was unbelievable. For example, we would go into dinner and wouldn’t know what we were eating.

“There was the usual pre-match ritual, a visit to the Folies Bergeres on the Friday night. There used to be a lot of hullabaloo from the press about that, saying they were out enjoying themselves, they weren’t concentrating on the match.

“There may have been a certain amount of that but we weren’t out drinking. But the press used to get photos of us there and if we got beaten, which we normally did, people would say ‘Oh, they were out enjoying themselves’ which was utter rubbish.

“But the whole weekend was a bit unreal. Paris was a strange place, not really a rugby city. Nobody knew what the people were doing there but almost all the people that went to the game would come up from the south of France for the match.”

And what did they get up to in Paris on the Saturday night? “Oh I can’t remember that,” laughed McBride. “But you just came home on the Sunday and went back to work on the Monday morning as though nothing had happened. Little did we realise it would be another 27 years before Ireland won in Paris again.”

McBride’s musings on the Irish team that day are fascinating:

Tom Kiernan (Cork Con.): “As captain, he was very good, very solid and also very respected by the players. He was a calming influence and always took the sensible attitude to things. He wouldn’t expect impossible things from players and he was very much in favour of the 15 man game. He used to say, ‘We’re all going to make mistakes so it’s up to us to help each other’, that sort of thing.

Tom Grace (UC Dublin): He was another player who was a great influence. He was always buzzing. He captained Ireland

later on in his career.

Mike Gibson (NIFC): He had been outstanding the previous year on the Lions tour of New Zealand and he certainly believed in himself. He was a class player, one of the best I ever saw. He had some wonderful skills.

Kevin Flynn (Wanderers): He was a superb player and by then had been around a long time so he knew what to expect. Remarkably, he’d made his debut as far back as 1959 but he hadn’t played international rugby for six years from 1966 to 1972.

Wallace McMaster (Ballymena): He never had a bad game for Ireland.

Barry McGann (Cork Con.): He was a very solid player, someone who took no nonsense and was widely respected.

Johnny Moloney (St Mary’s): A talented player, for sure, and a very lively influence behind his forwards.

Sean Lynch (St Mary’s): He had made his name in New Zealand the year before on the Lions tour, where he’d played in all four Tests. So he knew what to expect and was a solid, very dependable figure.

Ken Kennedy (London Irish): He was a superb hooker and he knew French rugby quite well. He had friends there and used to ‘to and fro’ from France and play a bit of rugby there, I think. He had been around a long time by 1972, because he’d made his Irish debut in 1965. In those days, these guys were genuine hookers — you don’t need a hooker in today’s game! Ken was the best hooker of a ball I have ever seen. He could do unbelievable things with his head and body. He was good in the loose, too; he ran around a lot although he was offside a lot, too. But he got away with that!

Ray McLoughlin (Blackrock College): He was very solid, a great thinker about the game. He was an excellent motivator because he made people think. When you got to a line-out, every man knew what his role was in that particular line-out. For Ireland, that was very unusual in those days until McLoughlin came on the scene. When you got in a scrum, we knew where the ball was going, we knew whether we were going to eight-man push or wheel it and whether we’d do a back row move.

Everybody knew what was happening but we’d never had that sort of thing before. Ray was the man who organised all that and he was the man who should have captained the 1966 Lions in New Zealand. He had a lot of experience by then and anyway, Ray never lacked any self belief.

Con Feighery (Lansdowne): He only won three caps for Ireland and they were all that season. I played with seven or eight different guys in the second row during my time. I don’t know whose fault that was. I played a hell of a lot with Bill Mulcahy and also a lot with Mick Molloy and I will always say about Molloy, he was one of the most under rated players I ever played with. He and I combined superbly. He was a physically strong player but sadly was never a Lion. He would have been tremendous on a Lions tour.

Fergus Slattery (Blackrock College): He covered so much ground in Paris. Normally, Paris was a firmer pitch than we would have played on at home and Slattery was superb at the breakdowns and also in pressurising the French. They were superb with the ball but Slattery put immense pressure on them which was great.

Stewart McKinney (Dungannon): He was a very hard, strong man who went on the 1974 Lions tour to South Africa.

Denis Hickie (St Mary’s): Uncle of Denis, the wing who played for Ireland more recently. He won six caps, four in 1971, just the two the next year. He was no fool as a player; strong and determined.

He added: “They were all tough players. This was a good Irish team and that’s what won us that game because for the first time we really took on a French team out there. So when you looked through that side, there was a core there of seven or eight players, about half the team, that were really world class players. That was the difference to other years.”

Belfast Telegraph


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