Sunday 24 September 2017

Kate Rowan: Deja vu draw highlights the ties that bind Ireland and France

Kate Rowan

FISHING around my handbag before kick off against France last week I found an item that has been in my match-day paraphernalia since the victory against Australia in the Rugby World Cup.

Those rosary beads I’ve been carrying for 18 months have sentimental value since I gripped them that famous night in Auckland.

 

Unfortunately, Ireland’s results since then show that my beads have not produced an unprecedented winning streak.

 

Finding the beads, I thought it funny that I should look at them just as we were about to take on Les Bleus, as in colour they almost imitate the French tricolour; red and white flowers adorning blue beads.

 

Funnier, though, that they came from France. They were a gift from Lourdes.

 

Mind you, maybe the Lourdes coincidence was not that wacky taking into account the ever-mounting list of Irish casualties. Considering the whole business of a new Pope being elected this week, the Vatican may be a little crowded for Declan Kidney to bring the injured to pray for a miracle in Rome. Perhaps a detour to Lourdes en route could be the way to go!

 

Back when news first broke of Jonathan Sexton’s move to France, a French friend suggested that he should brush up on his Irish history, particularly the struggles for independence, as the French have a soft spot for Irish rebellious tendencies, due to their own revolutionary history.

 

The French still celebrate this with the waving of their colours and the singing of their national anthem Les Marseillaise, both born out of their Revolution. The bombastic chords of the French fans singing was at times answered by the strains of the Fields of Athenry. Essentially, a rebel song.

 

Irish rugby commentators with a rebellious streak might not be behind the door in noting how the visiting fans in the Aviva Stadium again out-sang the Irish.

 

Despite the result, the Irish players put in a display that rebelled against much of the recent criticism. One man to fight against his naysayers was captain Jamie Heaslip who opened the evening’s scoring with a try.

 

There was a definite sense of the absurd in how the draw mirrored last year’s result, in the corresponding fixture after the Irish had been the superior side in both matches.

 

This feeling of déjà vu corresponds quite wonderfully with the work of an Irish man who strangely enough it is often recounted could speak better French than English after many years living in Paris.

 

Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot was in fact written en français. The repeated action in the play, where the first act almost mirrors the second, has at times confounded many a viewer but also generates great debate. Some critics argue that it is an excellent example of “Theatre of the Absurd”.

 

From the perspective of Irish fans, the result would have left them confounded but there also would have been plenty of room to debate the positives.

 

Looking at supporters of Les Bleus, it was bizarre to see fans who less than two years ago witnessed their side almost win the World Cup, seem pretty chuffed with a draw ending a Six Nations losing streak.

 

In post-match proceedings, absurdity seemed to be the theme of the night. I am not sure whether it was rainwater, shower water or just sweat but France captain Thierry Dusautoir had left his seat drenched after the French post-match media conference.

 

The Irish had their session afterwards and Heaslip had to jump up from the sodden upholstery and find another chair to sit on, tutting with a wry smile “Oh, Thierry!”

 

Usually post-match mixed zones, where media come to obtain quotes from a few players, are over in a flash but not for the French on Saturday night.

 

Both the French players and journalists seemed to be in the mood for chilling out and there was none of the usual sense of a media scrum as a sizable contingent of the French side wafted in and out of the designated area, happy to talk at length with the press.

 

The French journalists with their thick-rimmed spectacles and over-sized knitwear gave the interview session the vibe of a hipster cocktail party, a rare occurrence in rugby.

 

Some Irish journalists even tried our luck asking questions en français. Winger Maxime Médard (he, of the impressive creative facial hair!) said he hoped it would not be the last occasion he would see Brian O’Driscoll in action. Accounting for the bizarre events of Saturday night, you never know how long he will keep playing, particularly if he pays Lourdes a visit.

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