Ireland v France a World Cup warm-up? A friendly? Forget that. Who says so? Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll.
Tomorrow’s 5.00pm Aviva Stadium showdown is an international pairing-proper between teams and individuals with important points to make and prove.
The hosts are smarting at having lost their fourth-in-the-world ranking to guests whose record against them is embarrassingly good. While Ireland have won seven of their last eight matches against England, France have beaten Les Verts in nine of their last 10 meetings.
Doubtless the fact that England — who will provide the opposition in the last of Ireland’s four pre-World Cup Test matches — also have just leap-frogged Declan Kidney’s side in the wake of results in the recent friendlies will add spice to next Saturday afternoon’s already-sold-out clash.
The French challenge comes first, however, and O’Driscoll put that — and Ireland’s objectives in attempting to deal with it — into context when he said: “We need to treat this as anything but a friendly, try to stamp our authority and play the brand of rugby we hope to play at the World Cup.”
Test matches are just that — tests. Huge ones. Add players trying to ensure their places in the World Cup pecking order and there is even more at stake than usual.
This is not just about what happens between 5pm and 7pm on Saturday; it’s what that may lead to when the New Zealand-bound squad is named at lunch-time on Monday and status as a player when Ireland’s World Cup gets under way against the USA on September 11.
With 46 men in the mix for just 30 places, there is enormous tension at this stage, a fact O’Driscoll acknowledges.
“In previous years, for the most part, you would have thought — you would have been fairly sure — of what the 29 or 30 might have been.
“But I think, genuinely, this year there’s going to be people looking at the squad, seeing who’s been left out and thinking, ‘Jaysus, there’s some really top quality players left out’,” O’Driscoll says.
“That’s a testament to the squad that has been developed and also a testament to the attitude of the guys that are involved and the expectation of being in there and backing themselves.
“Over the past few days I think people have been fairly relaxed — their normal selves — but I’m sure inside people are very nervous and very hopeful that they’re going to make the plane.
“There’s no point in those instances wearing your emotions on your sleeve. There’s last impressions to be made on Declan (Kidney, the coach) before the squad is announced,” Ireland’s 112 times-capped captain advises anyone who, in their determination to get themselves noticed, risk ending up doing their cause harm.
O’Driscoll describes the French as being “very difficult to play against”.
“Those stats (one win in 10) show the level of difficulty that we have in playing against them.
“When we’ve beaten them in the past we’ve been able to match them physically,” says the man whose Parisian hat-trick heroics of 2000 launched him as a world star.
Rather than dwell on past glory, O’Driscoll instead prefers to highlight events in the most recent Ireland-France joust which finished 19-12 to the hosts in Bordeaux last Saturday.
“You could see how they started the game at the weekend.
“If they can get on top and get a bit of fluidity into their game, they play with that freedom,”O-Driscoll said.
“A lot of it is about staying with teams like France and trying to close games out in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
“Inevitably that’s how we’ve done it in the past when we have won,” said the captain.
“It’s great that in the build-up to a World Cup you get really tough games like this and next week’s.
“It’s fantastic because you want to play against the best opposition to see how you are, how fit you are and where you are from a physical point of view.”
Ireland — both as a team and as individual players — should have a much better idea of those things by the end of tomorrow evening’s showdown.