Hoopla over as Ireland get ready for Paris

Les Kiss says side's minds are on winning and not any farewells

The Irish team are busy preparing for this weekend's crucial fixture with France.

Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 01:00

It’s a matter for debate whether the endgame and post-match fanfare for Brian O’Driscoll’s farewell home Test hit the right tone. The giant banner was perhaps excessive and looked, at one point, as if it might engulf him and daughter Sadie, but there had to be a farewell wave before his return to the home dressing-oom for the last time, where reports vary as to whether O’Driscoll hit the right note in his rendition of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana .

“We all joined in to help him out, let’s put it that way,” claimed defensive coach Les Kiss with a smile, promptly adding: “No he was good. I won’t talk too loudly on the vocals or chords”.

“I thought with the actual occasion and Brian having his own walk off – or was that Ferg’s (Fergus McFadden) appreciation for coming on? – and that part at the end with Sadie out on the pitch with a full house 10 minutes after a match, which is unbelievable, and the Italians showing their respect, the after-match function where he was presented with a cap, to his speech and the speeches around it, I think the whole occasion was pretty special.

‘Cream on top’
“But I think the key was that it was delivered in the way we would have liked it to be delivered, and the rest was cream on top, and Brian is not one to be playing on it any further. He’s already on to the next business and that’s how it’s been too since we came back.”

So the show goes on, with the hoopla out of the way, and no public appearances or leading the team out on Saturday in Stade de France planned. The focus is solely on a performance to deliver the best valedictory outcome of all.

To that end, helpfully, although the proof will only come with tomorrow’s selection, Ireland appear to have a clean bill of health, with Peter O’Mahony expected to be restored in the only change to the starting XV and Iain Henderson reverting to the bench, to the exclusion of Jordi Murphy.

Kiss confirmed “Cian (Healy) was out of his boot and trained” and the expectation is Conor Murray, who also trained fully, will start.

If so, then Ireland will have started 18 players in this tournament, even in the absence of Seán O’Brien and the array of injured wingers.

This is akin to the 2009 Grand Slam campaign, when only 19 players started, and in stark contrast to last season’s jinxed championship, when up to 15 Test players were injured, and Declan Kidney was obliged to start 21 players while using 32 in total.

In one non-contact session three players were injured, and three more (all backs) went down in rapid succession in the first-half in Rome.

‘Pretty good place’
France have started 25 players in their four games to date, and while Kiss could not explain the contrast to last season, he did remark: “Fair play to the medics and Jason (Cowman) our S&C (strength and conditioning) guy, with the GPS diary and all that, and managing loads. We are in a pretty good place.”

In striking contrast to Joe Schmidt’s first campaign, Philippe Saint-André has been copping a fresh wave of criticism from Guy Noves and Bernard Laporte, amongst others. Yet Kiss cited how France were continually written off in the World Cup before ultimately losing the final 9-8 to New Zealand.

“Sometimes this game is just about winning, winning tournaments, getting through, getting to the next phase. They may not be as pretty as they would have liked, but when you look at it as forensically as we have there are some concerns.

“We expect that, being back on their home turf – they came back well in that first game against England – they’ll be very, very driven to make sure they win at home. You know they are going to bring their A game, and we have to be very, very disciplined in how we approach this.”

Only six of Saturday’s probable 23 took part in the ’09 Slam – Rob Kearney, O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip – and likening this game to a final, Kearney said: “Those guys who were involved in ’09 have a huge responsibility.

“I was thinking about it during the week that one of my regrets as a player is that Grand Slam game in 09. I was probably a little bit of a passenger and I just let the 80 minutes drift by a little bit, whereas this week I’ve a really brilliant opportunity, not to be a match-winner, but to go after it much more and that’s where my head is at this week.”