THE next time French prop forward Peter De Villiers faces an Irish team he wants to be on home soil.
And he will, because De Villiers will be part of the Stade Francais team to meet Munster in the Heineken Cup semi-final at Lille on April 21.
“I am looking forward to that,” he said as he reflected on France’s Lansdowne Road defeat. “It is an opportunity to exact some measure of revenge although, on the evidence of this international result, it won’t be easy.” Remarkably, Stade Francais and Munster between them supplied 11 of the 16 forwards who started Saturday’s game. “It was certainly an opportunity to get to know one another. The problem was that we didn’t get matters all our own way,” he said.
The 28 year old De Villiers was happy with only one thing — he felt he matched up to the challenge posed by Peter Clohessy in a reasonable manner.
“I don’t think we were as dominant in the scrums as I thought we might after watching Ireland against Italy, but we were certainly never in any kind of trouble,” said the South African born forward, winning his 10th French cap.
He had no complaints about the outcome, however, and praised Ireland for the way they carried the game to France for the first 60 minutes.
“There were times when we never had the ball. Ireland were very aggressive in the lineouts and in the loose. Their backs are pretty good as well. Our defence stood firm during the first half but there is only a certain amount of defending you can do before holes start to appear. For a time in the third quarter it was all down to a few players putting in tremendous tackles to stop Ireland from pulling completely away.” Once upon a time it would have been France playing all the rugby and Ireland hanging on for dear life.
“I think it comes down to the fact right now that Ireland have some very high quality backs and they are sensible enough to try to use them. As a South African, I think I can take somewhat of a neutral stance and suggest France are trying to use their forwards more than their backs — quite simply because that has worked against different opposition in recent matches.
“It should be remembered that to Ireland’s credit they have very good players in the backs, particularly at out half and in the centre. It’s pretty hard to stop those guys when they get on a roll. They take on the ball very quickly and they try to use the space as well. Ireland should persist with the running game they are playing at the moment because I think they can do very well.”
Part of the reason for the French failure out of touch, believes De Villiers, was because they prepared at lineout time too slowly.
“I think Ireland had worked out our calls or, at least, they knew the general area where the ball was going and they were able to put pressure on us as a result. It was pretty good play from the Irish and not very good play from us.
“We often didn’t climb high enough and Ireland challenged for every ball when it was our throw. They nicked a few off us and we can’t be happy with that. It is something we will have to address before our remaining matches.
“It could have something to do with tiredness. Sometimes we were a bit slow in thinking and it may have been caused by exhaustion. Our guys spent a lot of time chasing the game and chasing guys in green jerseys. Eventually, exhaustion sets in and the mind gets tired as well.”
De Villiers believes Ireland are firing on all cylinders right now and feels another victory over Wales in two weeks time will help turn them into serious title challengers.
“If they can keep that level of concentration and skill up through their other matches then they are capable of beating anyone and that includes England. If Ireland beat Wales in Cardiff I wouldn’t fancy being an Englishman having to travel to Lansdowne Road no matter how good they are perceived to be.
“Certainly these are good and exciting times for Ireland but what they have got to do now is find the type of consistency they have been lacking over the last few years. After these two wins they are on the way to finding that consistency.”
Disappointed at defeat, De Villiers still found time to laud the Irish.
“I honestly can see them going far for two reasons. For a start they are very creative but they combine with that being destructive as well. It is the sign of a good team to be able to have both abilities. They kept the pressure on us throughout, forcing us into mistakes when we were either defending or attacking and there wasn’t much we could do about it even though we gave it our best shot in the closing minutes. Overall, it was a fair result. Ireland certainly deserved to win and you can’t take that away from them.”