Rory Best’s message ahead of Ireland’s latest trip to Paris is to forget about the size of the mountain in front of them and instead concentrate on the rewards that await the men in green who prove able to conquer it.
The stats are depressingly familiar — one win in the 40 years since 1972 — but victory in the French capital would inject untold momentum into the Irish Six Nations campaign, propel them back into the reckoning for the title itself and make immortals of those who pull it off.
“History suggests that it is something that doesn’t happen very often,” said the Ulster hooker. “From an Irish point of view, we go full of confidence but fully aware of how long it has been since we beat them there. It is a massive challenge in that we haven’t done it in so long.
“But, on the flipside, we have the opportunity to write ourselves into the history books as the first team to win there since 2000. You want the really big moments that you can look back on in your career and there is no doubt that Sunday evening can be one of those for us.”
The theory goes that Ireland return to the continent on Saturday in far better shape than three weeks ago given they have already lanced the opening Welsh defeat with the ultimately comfortable rout of Italy.
Best doesn’t see it quite so simply.
Last time they travelled with the fire of indignation, this time it is with more pep in their step. Both are useful commodities to pack for the road but they only take you so far in the Stade de France and, for Ireland, that has rarely been far enough.
Like millions of tourists down the years, it seems that Irish teams become intoxicated by the sights and sounds by the Seine and adopt a ‘when in Rome’ attitude that plays into the hands of a French team that, according to Best, plays smarter rugby than their visitors.
“Possibly in the past we have been guilty of going there and almost being … sucked in is the wrong word, but the French have this reputation for being an all-action, all-go team and whether we go there and try to match them at that I’m not sure.
“But certainly any of the times I’ve been there we’ve been very uncharacteristically loose in the first 20 minutes. The game gets off to a ferocious start and we try things that we wouldn’t normally do. It’s something we’ve talked about and tried to eradicate.”
Records and trends are one thing but this is a different Irish team to that which caved 33-10 two years ago. Or, to be more accurate, half a new one in that only eight of the starters this weekend sang the anthem 24 months ago.
Best’s international career path further highlights the strides made since. For so long a ‘squaddie’, he is now an accepted member of the officer class and even has his own single room in Carton House to prove it.
However, it comes as something of a shock to discover that he has played only 38 minutes in the Stade de France before now, with that game time split evenly into two stints as a replacement in 2010 and two years before. Not a problem, says Best.
“There are plenty of leaders right across the board,” he said. “There are moments when you are going to feel down in a game and you need leaders to get you back up again.”
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