Wednesday 29 January 2020

Hugh Farrelly: Kidney factor key to ending Parisien pain

Hugh Farrelly

THERE comes a point in every painful tale when enough is enough. Like the story of the particularly bad amateur production of 'The Diary Of Anne Frank' which lurched from appalling scene to appalling scene until a group of Nazis burst onto the stage and were subjected to a disgruntled member of the audience yelling: "She's in the attic, lads."

A 'put us out of misery' plea which could be just as easily applied to Irish rugby and Paris. Save for one glorious St Patrick's Day 10 years ago, it has been the scene of unremitting pain for as long as most of us can remember.

It's a tale of two cities with Paris for, ordinarily, there is no better place in Europe to visit. It is comely, cultural and cool but, when it comes to Irish rugby it is more readily associated with cringe -- for everyone concerned.

The cringe that was the Argentina press conference before the critical World Cup pool clash with Ireland when Juan Leguizamon was wheeled out to meet Irish journalists who were blissfully unaware that he had Stephen Fry-esque English from his time with London Irish.

"Juan ... the World Cup ... you like ... yes?"

"Indisputably, I believe it is the pinnacle of any player's career and an opportunity to familiarise yourself with the game in a truly global sense."


The cringe of a World Cup accommodation shortage leading to the use of a one-and-a-half star hotel, so dingy the cockroaches could be seen marching out in single file, sleeping bags on their backs, to the hostel down the road.

And the cringe that goes with one Irish victory in the French capital since 1972 as Paris became renowned as a graveyard for Irish aspirations. Don Whittle, Derek McAleese, Paul Hogan and Ken O'Connell would attest to this, fine players who never a started another game in an Irish jersey after running out for their first caps in Paris.

Ireland and France first played in Paris in 1910 and have played 41 matches there in total -- including that aforementioned World Cup clash.

The French have won 30 of those encounters with six of Ireland's 10 victories coming before 1928 when France were still finding their way in international rugby.

Since Drico did his thing in 2000 and sparked an upsurge in the fortunes of the national team, the pain has continued in Paris. In 2002, the French ran up 44 points to Ireland's five and in '04, '06 and '08 their devastating first-half salvos gave them the comfort zone of being able to switch off and then fend off futile Irish fightbacks.

Tomorrow is the perfect time to buck the trend. Ireland and France are the most successful participants in the Six Nations since it began in 2000.

Including last weekend's victories, the countries have identical records of 37 wins from 51 outings, although the French have two Grand Slams to Ireland's one.

This is the tie-breaker and something has to give.

When it comes to trend-bucking, no better man than Ireland coach Declan Kidney. It was he who secured a first win on French soil for an Irish province, coached Ireland 'A' to a clean sweep in the early years of the last decade, brought the Heineken Cup to Ireland for the first time and then ended the 61-year wait for a Grand Slam.

When Kidney compares the coaching CVs of Marc Lievremont and England supremo Martin Johnson to his own he would be forgiven a rueful shake of the head given the prolonged and circuitous nature of his path to the top.

Lievremont was handed the job with only under-age coaching experience while Johnson had none -- the fact that both men had represented their countries as players seems to have been accorded undue significance.

Furthermore, the French coach's less-than-complimentary comments after Ireland's Grand Slam win last year will have been noted, ready to be flung back in his face tomorrow evening.

Oscar Wilde was an Irishman who knew how to handle Paris and he had words that could be applied to Declan Kidney in the Stade de France tomorrow.

"The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it."

Irish Independent

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