Saturday 18 November 2017

Philosophical French leave with a request: Go beat the English

French fan Camille Giraud from Paris gets ready for the match in St Stephen’s Green. Photo: Steve Humphreys
French fan Camille Giraud from Paris gets ready for the match in St Stephen’s Green. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

At lunchtime, a coachload from Orthez in the French Pyrenees set up camp in Ringsend, a stone's throw from the Aviva Stadium, putting up their trestle tables under the trees and laying out their wine and cheese for a proper picnic.

Amid this scene, the layers of history chimed a strange melody - the battle of Orthez in 1814 saw the French forced to retreat against the Anglo forces under the Dublin-born Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington.

While just yards away from the French repast en plein air, the Under 11s from Clanna Gael Fontenoy were absorbed in a hurling match, their club happening to commemorate an earlier great French battle, when 4,000 of the Irish Wild Geese fought valiantly for the French king in 1745, turning the tide and bringing victory against the British forces.

Incredulous in defeat amid slightly less turbulent times, the French rugby fans left the Irish with the instructions to take it from here, for their sake as well as ours.

The victory against the hulking All Blacks at Soldier Field in Chicago back in November, which had ended 111 years of sore defeat, had been feared to have been a mere flash in the pan after the disaster against the Scottish side at Murrayfield.

But once again, destiny is in our hands - the Six Nations is ours to win. At this point in time, at least.

Ireland fans celebrate during the game. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland fans celebrate during the game. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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The scent of victory, of contentment and relief was in the air on Saturday night as the jubilant Green Army flocked out of the stadium with the French philosophical in defeat, Ireland having scored their biggest winning margin against them in the Six Nations since 1975.

The atmosphere in the stadium was electric right down to the final scoreline. Could it be done? It could.

"Just one thing - please beat the English for us, ok? Please," Matt Chevalier from Toulouse, at the match with friend Valentine Angland, said.

French supporters making their way to the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
French supporters making their way to the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"We knew it would be tough, but it was much more tough than we thought it would be," he admitted. "We came to win. But the scrum, the defence," he shrugged. "It was very difficult."

Felix Carlon and his son Mario, who had travelled from Madrid to watch their first ever rugby match, were left breathless.

"Incredible, incredible," enthused Felix. "We don't understand the tactics but that did not matter at all."

But had they come to support Ireland?

"Of course," he said, unzipping his jacket to reveal the green and explaining that he had lived in Cork for a year and so felt bound to. "We will come back," he declared.

Andrew O’Leary and Jennie Fair from Cabinteely, Dublin, at the match. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Andrew O’Leary and Jennie Fair from Cabinteely, Dublin, at the match. Photo: Doug O'Connor

But nobody said the battle was easy.

"It was tense," admitted Niall Hoey from Dublin, who had brought along son Odhrán Hoey with friends Oscar Bradshaw and Hugo Shaw, all 10 years old.

All left in raptures after witnessing the clash, but it had been "a little worrying in the first half", said Niall, who noted that their calm strategy won the day in the end - not to mention Johnny Sexton's central role as an official class act.

Next stop Cardiff - where danger still lurks. "They'll come out all guns blazing," warned Devin Toner.

And in the background, the rolling beat of the English drums can be faintly heard coming over the hill.

Irish Independent

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