IT PROMISES to be one of the mouthwatering head to heads in the 2010 RBS Six Nations Championship. In one corner you have the best player in the world in 2009, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll. Facing him is one of rugby’s most controversial and yet potentially most explosive players, France’s Mathieu Bastareaud.
They will both try to deliver a knockout blow in the Stade de France on Saturday and the man who succeeds in the task may help decide the outcome of the fascinating clash.
Given that O’Driscoll will be earning his 98th cap, he is hardly likely to be intimidated by the 18½ stone Stade Francais giant or indeed any other centre three-quarter on the globe.
And yet, after his two tries against Scotland at Murrayfield, the man who almost caused a diplomatic incident between France and New Zealand last year, poses a huge threat to Ireland’s ambitions of a first win in the Paris in a decade.
“He’s a powerful guy,” admitted the Irish captain. “He looks to be one of their in-form players and he gives them great go-forward considering his size. He seems a handful but like any other centre partnership Darce (Gordon D’Arcy) and I come up against, we like to think we’ll give them as much trouble as they’ll give us.
“He may be 18½ stone but while he may move brilliantly in a straight line, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll shift as well when he runs to the side of it. It’s our role to make sure we don’t give him easy shots to get into the game and to make him work hard. But again, you don’t play the opposition, you play your own game.
“When we’ve done the analysis this week, it hasn’t been on one individual in their back line because when you start thinking of one, the threats come from elsewhere.”
O’Driscoll then paused for a moment, and with that familiar grin of his, quipped: “I’ll treat it as I would any other opposition I play against — it just happens that he’s four stone heavier.”
Inevitably, the focus transferred to Ireland’s poor record in Paris and to O’Driscoll’s hat-trick of tries in the most recent victory, in 2000.
“We felt that we had stemmed the tide of losses but there has been a big mixture of games since, some that got away from us and we weren’t able to come back and others where we gave them seemingly unassailable leads and nearly chased them down,” he reflected.
“It has been disappointing but all that goes out the window and it’s about how we start (on Saturday). That will be a focus of ours, to make sure we start the game well and make sure we don’t give them a score to defend.
“I don’t think it’s a case of them coming out of the blocks, it’s more about being proactive and trying to come out of the blocks ourselves. It’s a tough place to go but it’s 15 a side, the pitch is the same size you play on every week so there shouldn’t be any reason why we wouldn’t go out and play the game we know we are capable of playing from the first minute.”
O’Driscoll is obviously proud of the three tries he scored in the memorable victory in 2000 but he was being nothing other than realistic when stressing that 10 years on, it has little relevance to Saturday.
“The game is very different from 10 years ago,” he stressed. “There’s no point in reflecting on those things. I will try and pick out the things that worked well that day, as you do from any other game in which you have been successful.”
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