How 2007 Georgia match left a mark on the Irish team
Return of the Lelos prompts painful recall of one of the lowest points in Irish rugby history at 2007 World Cup
"Never going back. Never going back again. Never going back. Never going back again. . ."
- Ad lib to fade, Something Happens 'Forget Georgia', 1988.
Some of us have returned since. There have been happier times in the Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux. Happier times than THAT night. . .
Perhaps one of the greatest club games of the professional era in the northern hemisphere, Leinster's epic Heineken Cup semi-final win against Clermont en route to their third title triumph in 2012.
Indeed, Ireland's facility to chuckle in the face of any perceived demons freighted them breezily back to the same venue to prepare for the 2011 World Cup.
It was as if the 2007 World Cup hadn't happened; Declan Kidney brought his side to face France amidst the country's worst losing run since, eh, the 2007 World Cup.
"But the lads won here four years ago as well," Kidney said in that breezy manner of his, when it's hard to tell if he's gently chiding a fidgety toddler or anxiously beseeching an axe murderer.
Ireland, perhaps inevitably, lost.
We wondered had the players noticed the sign for the ill-fated Hotel Du Lac as the team bus snaked its way through the oppressive Bordeaux heat and felt a shiver down their collective spines.
They assured us they did not. We begged to differ. The scars were still raw. And, in the context of recidivist failures at World Cup level, out of all proportion to consistent provincial and national team success, they remain so, even seven years on.
Ireland will easily defeat Georgia this weekend, whatever the weather. But the events of September 14, 2007, still prompt grown men to quake at the coruscating memory.
Ireland came within seconds of losing the game and, only for the hand of Denis Leamy, who supposedly had diabetes - another rumour to add to the alleged booze sessions, gambling debts and fights that dogged the ill-fated campaign - they would have.
"Losing that match would have been the lowest point in the history of Irish rugby," recalled Ronan O'Gara, before adding pointedly, "Winning the match seemed to be the lowest point of Irish rugby."
Even this week, as Irish players congregated to forcibly return emotionally to the scene of the crime, they did so with shuddering regret.
"We'd played poorly against Namibia and the damage that did to the squad made Eddie O'Sullivan pick the team that hadn't played that well, and the team needed to play again, forcing a lot of players not to play in that World Cup," recalled wing Denis Hickie this week.
"We were completely under-cooked. There's a fine line between getting game-time and being wrapped in cotton wool," added Brian O'Driscoll.
"There was a huge focus on us getting bigger for Argentina and France and we aped the gym for eight or nine weeks.
"The level of skill was terrible in the warm-ups but we thought we could get it in the competition. We just couldn't get our heads around it."
Stephen Ferris spoke of not feeling part of the team; O'Sullivan had virtually closed off the starting XV from the moment Leinster and Munster had been evicted from European competition more than six months earlier.
"I try not to talk about it," he said. "It brings back too many bad memories." And he didn't even play!
The game itself was notable less for the scoring sequence - the tries from Rory Best and Girvan Dempsey that should have pushed Ireland to a winning position but, incomprehensibly, didn't.
Instead, the over-riding sentiment was the atmosphere of foreboding amongst those Irish fans watching behind closed hands, the journalists shocked at the unfolding ennui and the giddy excitement of the (barely) neutral French fans, goading every knock-on, each Georgian hit, with ever increasing glee.
On another day, Georgia may have been credited with the late try to secure a famous win but the TMO, somehow, denied the try; his decision was ultimately correct, albeit he didn't have access to the vision showing Leamy's desperate paw on the ball.
The consolation was both illusory and fleeting; Ireland wouldn't win another game in that World Cup.
Even though seven years have elapsed, it may take another 70 before Irish rugby can, finally, forget Georgia.