Subscriber OnlyRugby World CupLetter from Bordeaux

Rugby World Cup: This time Ireland have nothing to whine about in Bordeaux

Unlike in 2007, Ireland players have not been plonked in the middle of an industrial estate, so the tones have been just right during their preparation for Saturday’s opening match against Romania

Everywhere around the village of Libourne, a short drive from the city of Bordeaux, where the Romanian team have been based this week, you can be distracted by better things. Swing left or swing right or drive straight along and all the local signposts are at it. Bordeaux can’t help itself.

Saint-Émilion this way, Pomerol that way and Médoc somewhere down the carriageway. Amid a sunny 35 degrees, the liquid alternatives available in the wine region to becoming a laptop-hauling, sticky-hot-wet mess seem not only to be a sensible distraction, but an urgent one.

For the Irish team of 2007 their base in Bordeaux didn’t constitute a series of wasted drive-bys at wineries. Nor was it sensible, although distraction did become urgent.

To have a decent cup of coffee away from the confines of the team hotel was a stroll across a motorway beside a large and featureless man-made lake and into what Ronan O’Gara in his autobiography called a “greasy spoon”, where the players would go once a week to break the monotony of the same food in the same room with the same walls, the same chairs, the same smells and at the same times.


Paul O’Connell, the current forwards coach for the Irish team, was an outstanding player in that Irish squad. Flanker Simon Easterby, now the Ireland defence coach, is another who was there for the pool stages of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. For those reasons it may not have been coincidence that captain Johnny Sexton earlier this week praised the current team’s training facilities and lodgings.

The Ireland captain said they are “really, really top-class, which is most important. The hotel being good with good food, etc ... everything has been done for us. No excuses now.”

A good environment, the players will tell you, is like positive mindfulness. Anything that screws with the ions in their heads outside of the narrow focus of beating the other team on a given day is wasted energy. And there was plenty of that in 2007, with much of it lost on unfounded rumours.

One of the more absurd was Geordan Murphy’s alleged jail break, when he was “spotted” hitchhiking along the road that headed towards the airport. Not only did it misrepresent the Irish fullback as an individual without coin and incapable of phoning a cab, it was absolutely false. But that didn’t stop it being woven into a narrative about coach Eddie O’Sullivan sticking with the same team he felt most comfortable in playing.

“I’m not sure exactly when the rumours started back home about disharmony in the camp,” said O’Gara. “About fights between Munster and Leinster players, about Geordan walking out and players going on the booze and God knows what else. How do these things start. Who makes them up. We’re a nation of gossipers, that’s at the heart of it.”

The hotel’s location on a team environment fault line arose because the first choice building in the city – a well-appointed Radisson Hotel near the squares and restaurants in the city centre – had not been renovated in time for the tournament.

So the team were shipped out to what O’Gara described as “a dismal two-star hotel in the middle of an industrial estate, miles from anywhere. Totally isolated. No buzz.”

“The only amenities nearby were a man-made lake and a go-karting circuit. Useless. It was like you were devoid of reality in that hotel. You were living in a surreal world. On top of that the food was brutal. In Bordeaux you were shovelling in as much grub as you could stomach and heading back up to your room. If the rugby had been right though, you could have coped with the hotel and the grub. In our state of mind everything was worse.”

Not a hotel review to put at the top of Tripadvisor.

This week’s classier billet is not a million miles from the Garonne river that flows through Bordeaux or the Molly Malone pub nestled on Quai des Chartrons. Further down on a short tram ride towards Place de la Bourse is downtown Bordeaux and the Rugby Village that runs along the tramlines and the riverbank. At the terminus at the other end of the track is Stade de Bordeaux, a football stadium that staged five matches during Euro 2016 and where the city’s Ligue 1 team play.

It is a picturesque setting by a lake where the tents of the city’s homeless can be seen under scrub trees and bushes along the shoreline and paddle boarders serenely make their way across the water. The futuristic cubed appearance of the stadium lords it over everything.

“The hotel was fine, it was just where it was located, in an industrial area,” said Alan Quinlan of 2007. “We were looking at other teams staying by the beach and all that sort of thing and it can have an impact.”

No negative impact this time from Ireland’s pool-phase base in Tours and the city hotel in Bordeaux. Everything has been “top class”, much like the famous vineyards that strafe the plains around it. A fine place to start what Irish rugby fans hope will be a vintage campaign.