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Rugby's rising profile will foster greater self-esteem

It is 16 years since that momentous meeting in Paris decided to discard all the old emblems of Corinthianism and embrace pay-for-play and full-time professionalism.

Strange rugby times we live in. Affairs have changed quite incredibly, or should I say dramatically -- or perhaps revolutionary describes it best.

You may recall Bill Beaumont, the popular England and Lions captain being suspended by the English Rugby Union for breaking a strict rule.

He wrote a book, a heinous crime in those days.

And now? Well, tempus has fugited with a vengeance, Bill is now one of England's two representatives on the world governing body, the International Rugby Board.

That's the way the cat is jumping and when we gaze back on that meeting of the countries in the grandeur of Gay Paree, our binoculars focus in on the bizarre bit of history that the Irish were the only country to vote to retain amateurism.

And the weird and wonderful irony is that the IRFU and Irish rugby has adopted the professional game better than most.

All the other rugby nations are the victims of billionaire bosses who own the game and thus, the envy of the Irish situation.

In the amateur days, Ireland occupied the basement, historically bottom of the annual competition.

Back before that Paris decision the tables looked like this, England 61 wins to Ireland 38, Wales 58 to Ireland's 33, Scotland ahead 55 to 45 and France 37 to 25.

But the recent professional progress has Ireland winning eight times against England from 2001 to this last season and, would you believe 12 wins over Wales in this era and nine over Scotland.

Not so hot with the French, but there is enough evidence, I would suggest, to list the Irish and the French top of the world, against the overrated Kiwis and Springboks.

France should have won the World Cup, but the Kiwis had a favourable referee in the final.

And Ireland threw it away against Wales who had the cuter coach.

Before the World Cup I proclaimed that Ireland could win the competition. They had the skills and the only lack, in my view, was in self-esteem.

The players might dismiss that as nonsense, but, I say, think about it.

Remember that ordinary England side winning in 2003, inspired by the self-esteem, or arrogance of their captain Martin Johnson?

And Australia winning it twice, sheer modesty ruling the roost.

A recent professional survey has, not surprisingly, soccer as our favourite sport, with gaelic games at 20.9pc and rugby, the ever progressing sport, at 20.5pc.

Now in a long tenure on this green and misty isle, I've never been approached for my invaluable views, but they say that those polls claim to be accurate up to 2pc either way, so whatever way you view it, rugby is taking a firm hold in Ireland.

And it should foster a much-needed advance in self-esteem.

Irish Independent