Maxime Médard impressed by Brian O’Driscoll at an early age
France winger first spotted the Irish centre playing in 1998
Maxime Medard in action against England. The France winger accepts that critics of his side’s play this eaosn have a valid point. Photograph: Martin BureauAFP/Getty Images
Maxime Médard can remember clearly when he first noticed Brian O’Driscoll.
Unlike many of his team-mates, it was not when they crossed paths on the pitch or when the Leinster centre announced his arrival on the world stage with a hat-trick in Paris fourteen years ago.
It was in April 1998, when Médard was just 11 years old. The future French wing was a spectator at the World Youths Championship, where O’Driscoll’s Ireland side faced the hosts in the final.
As would become a regular occurrence at senior level, the Dubliner was integral to the under 19s 18-0 victory. His performance that day stuck with at least one local boy in the Toulouse crowd.
“Without question, he was impressive,” Médard said at the French team’s base outside Paris. “He was a player who stood out from the rest – like he does almost every week for Ireland.
“He’s someone who’s always brought something to the team. He’s a man of integrity, I think, and an intelligent guy. He was always a fighter with Ireland and he always fought hard with his club too.”
While it was O’Driscoll’s talent that impressed 16 years ago, it seems that his courage and will to win are what Médard appreciates most now. When asked what best sums up O’Driscoll’s quality, the 27-year-old paused, smirked and repeated the same phrase twice: “A fighter.”
“He’s a player who’ll go down in history,” he continued. “For me he’s one of the best centres in the world and he’s an example to follow.”
This year more than ever, Médard believes, the veteran centre is the driving force for this Ireland team.
“They’re really the strongest team at the moment. They’re scoring plenty of tries. They’re quite impressive. They have experience and it’s Brian O’Driscoll’s last tournament so I think they’re being carried by that enthusiasm. They’re a very good team to watch.”
Better than in previous years? Médard, who scored a try in France’s 25-22 win over Ireland in Dublin three years ago, says his side have pinpointed some differences since Joe Schmidt took over.
“There are maybe two or three things that they’ve changed and it’s up to us to counteract that,” he said. “But I think it’s really the passion of Brian O’Driscoll that has given them something extra this year.”
With France having the slimmest of chances of winning the tournament, there has been a suggestion that they might finally relax and express themselves better against Ireland. However, Médard does not accept that Saturday’s meeting in Paris will be an easy one for his side to approach.
“It’s another level and, for us, it’s a really important game,” the Toulouse player said. “We have a lot of pressure on us. It’s our last match at home and we want to do something good after the defeat against Wales and a match that maybe wasn’t too nice to watch in Scotland.”
Another insipid display in Edinburgh resulted in critics of the team becoming more vociferous. While Médard stressed that at the same stage last year France had one draw and three defeats, he acknowledges that many of the detractors have a point.
“We’re used to it,” he said. “We work with you. Sometimes, it’s true, that [critics] do affect us. But we’re not resentful. We know very well what we do on the pitch. We know very well that, after the Scotland game, we can’t be happy with what we did.
“We’re happy to have won but we’re frustrated with what we gave and we can’t take too much pleasure from it. But it’s a win and inevitably you have to take some pleasure out of winning.”
One more success, coupled with a good performance, would lessen the pressure on the team over the coming months. At the very least though, Saturday’s game will allow Médard to admire O’Driscoll in action one more tim after shining in Toulouse all those years ago.
“It will be an honour to shake his hand after the match,” Médard said.