Thomas Castaignede: France can rediscover joie de vivre against Irish

Thomas Castaignede played 54 times for France at fly-half, full-back and centre, scoring 252 points for Les Bleus between 1995 and 2007, writes Simon Lewis.

Thomas Castaignede: France can rediscover joie de vivre against Irish

As he prepared to make his biennial trip to Dublin for tomorrow’s showdown between Ireland and France, he gave the Irish Examiner his thoughts on the big game...

Q Hi Thomas, so you’re looking forward to coming to Dublin this weekend?

A Yeah I’m coming over on Saturday morning but I don’t want to be too cold.

SL: We’ll see what we can do. But is that your abiding memory of a trip to Dublin, the cold?

TC:Well, no, I always love to come to Dublin but I have to say, I tend to regret the old times of Dublin have gone. Lansdowne Road was such a fantastic stadium.”

SL: The Irish can still get the Aviva rocking, though France won there in 2011 and drew in 2013.

TC: That’s right. So it’s not such a bad stadium for us and this year the French team will be better because they are not favourites. We tend to be a bit better if we don’t have to produce any game. We’re quite a strong team, powerful, but at the moment we’re not really organised in attack and we need to progress in that area. Against Ireland we need to be very aggressive in defence and bring the Irish players back into their half.

“I think we can be very disruptive to their game. I’m not sure the Irish team is the best team they can be yet. They’re trying to rebuild but I don’t think they have developed as much as they would like.

“I’m pretty sure Ireland and Joe Schmidt want to produce that kind of game but against Italy they were average. We didn’t see a very good game from Ireland. They tried to run but not at the right time and a lot of balls went down and there were too many times when they tried to kick so that might be a problem for them.

“They’re not that much better than us at the moment and that’s why we can perhaps expect a good result or something special.”

SL: How much will revenge be motivation for the French after last year’s defat in Paris?

TC: Ohhhh, you know, we cried last year when we lost that game. The Irish players came and broke our hearts in the last game but they deserved that win. They were better than us that day but to be honest, I don’t think the Irish team has improved from that game. They’ve had injuries to many key players and O’Driscoll is not playing any more and you cannot replace that kind of player. They’re still a good team and they’re quite difficult to beat but when I saw the performances of the Irish provinces in the Champions Cup I was really disappointed. Then against Italy they didn’t show any improvement and that’s why even though the French team didn’t produce a fantastic game against Scotland we’re still not too far from this Irish team.”

SL: Even with Johnny Sexton back?

TC:Well, Sexton will always make a difference. He’s a quality player and when he’s at this top level he can make a big difference. He’s not been playing for a long time though, and at Racing he has played some very good games but others which were not as good as we were expecting. But he wasn’t playing as he wanted to and I feel that when he plays in the Irish team he’s playing in a system that he loves, he knows all the other players and it seems very enjoyable for him. When he plays in France, it’s not the same type of game but I’m pretty sure he will be a threat and it will be a major step up for Ireland because last week was not the Ireland I was expecting.”

SL: And what about Sexton against Camille Lopez, should be a fascinating contest shouldn’t it?

TC: Yes, I think Sexton is an example for the French fly-half. He has followed after many fantastic fly-halves for Ireland and he’s shown he can play at the highest level having learned a lot from those players and now he’s one of the best in the world of rugby. So it should always be a pleasure to play against that kind of player.

“I think Camille Lopez is improving a lot, game after game, changing clubs from Bordeaux-Begles to Perpignan to Clermont and stepping up each time. Now he’s one of the best fly-halves in the French league. He took the place of Brock James which is not a bad thing when you come into a club like Clermont.

“He wants to be one of the big players in the French team and I think he will be.”

SL: Ireland have a French winger, you know, Simon Zebo plays as if he were a Bleu.

TC: “We wish!”

SL: Really? Or are you just being polite?

TC:No, really. He’s so different. Every time he gets the ball you never know what’s going to happen or where he goes but he scores tries that no-one else can and he’s really a very good player. He’s a different type of player than what we’ve seen in Ireland in the past and that’s why everyone likes him. He can create some gaps, he looks very relaxed. Yeah, he could be French. His father’s from Martinique and that’s why it was a mistake to let him go (laughs).”

SL: What about your favourite Irish player?

TC: I remember when I was a kid watching rugby, Ollie Campbell. When I was playing in my garden I was always Ollie Campbell. Maybe I’m really Irish in my heart.”

Thomas Castaignède teamed up with Guinness, proud partner of Irish Rugby and the RBS 6 Nations, to announce the next epic rugby experience for rugby fans available through the Guinness Plus App. Rugby fans who ‘check-in’ to the pub on the day of the Ireland v France match will be in with a chance to win a VIP prize to take two friends to the Ireland v England RBS Six Nations game. The Guinness Plus App is available to download for iPhone and Android Smartphones from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store now.

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