By Claire Glancy
That is what was written at the top of the paper taken from the France team hotel. Underneath in a blue ballpoint pen was neatly drawn list of reminders such as:
– ‘Lift your head’
– ‘Don’t let yourself get annoyed’
– ‘Control, over answers to questions that don’t interest you’
These were the notes France coach Phillippe Saint-Andre was carrying in his accreditation pass as he prepared to face the media without another win in this year’s Six Nations.
They were accompanied by another sheet which seemed to list excuses:
– ‘Difficult weather conditions’
– ‘Continue to build for RWC 2015’
– ‘Prepare for the next match and win at the SDF (Stade de France)’
Now, I don’t know if Declan Kidney speaks French but when he sat behind the same desk twenty minutes later, he may as well have been reading from the same page. Just like his French counterpart Kidney is a man under pressure. At the beginning of the tournament, it was expected the fourth round in Dublin would be a defining moment in the tournament but instead of either team going for the Championship, it was a battle to avoid the bottom of the table.
Ireland did it again: started well, had a good first half but little did we know Paddy Jackson’s 33rd minute penalty would be the last points we’d see scored by the home team.
Once again, Ireland had greater possession and territory. They won more turnovers and had carried the ball further. But Jamie Heaslip’s face said it all when asked afterwards if he felt like this was one that got away? The Ireland captain couldn’t help but roll his eyes, let out a long sigh, and say, “that’s what we’ve felt for the last three games to be honest.”
If Ireland were being played off the park in these games the results would be easier to take or at least understandable. The frustration (yes, that word again) is that any time they’ve built a lead, they’ve given the opposition a chance to get back into the game.
With Ireland ten points ahead at half time in Dublin, my Twitter timeline was full of predictions as to which scenario would complete a fairytale ending to Brian O’Driscoll’s international career at Lansdowne Road. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see him cross the whitewash in a style similar to any of the three tries he scored in Paris back in 2000?” Another even went as far to say “BOD drop goal to win it!”
As it turned out, just a simple victory would have been nice. The standing ovation for O’Driscoll when he went off in the 72nd minute was one of the highlights of the match. In years to come the result won’t matter because what people will remember and boast about is “I was at Lansdowne Road when O’Driscoll played there for the last time.” The fact that he re-entered the battle ground a few minutes later to finish the match is nothing less than what we’ve come to expect from one of the games greatest players.
Obviously we don’t know for sure it’s the last time O’Driscoll will play in green at the Aviva but he hasn’t quashed the scenario out of hand, either. There will be no Grand Slam, no Six Nations title, no Triple Crown and no Heineken Cup for O’Driscoll this season which leaves one more chance for a happy ending: a Lions test series victory in Australia. That the beautiful thing about sport, it conjures up all sorts of emotions and dares us to dream.
Saturday did not go Ireland’s way and I could have predicted the reasons why, yet sometimes it’s good to look at things a different way. Looking over Saint-Andre’s notes again, I couldn’t help but think of O’Driscoll. Stripped of his captaincy he held his head high and has hardly shown a glimpse of any frustration he must have surely felt. Even Brian O’Driscoll, an Irish rugby hero respected and feared by opponents worldwide, has a human side. We saw that on Saturday as he went to his wife Amy and three-week old daughter Sadie at the final whistle. Having dedicated the last fourteen years of his life to Irish rugby, those, what will soon become nostalgic shots, show where his priorities lie. He’s no longer ours but one hundred percent theirs, and to be fair, that’s just as it should be.
Follow Claire Glancy on Twitter @claireglancy