After the disappointment of Ireland's draw and another round of casualties in the Irish line-up, former French coach Marc Lièvremont sings the praises of the "Fighting Irish".
It’s nice to see ones efforts appreciated . In an article in today’s Le Monde, former French rugby international and coach of the national French side Marc Lièvremont begins with the words “If I admire Ireland so much… ” and waxes as lyrical as he has possibly ever done about anything, extolling the virtues of “something very specific and endemic” in Irish rugby which, he says, he has never found anywhere else. But that’s not the only reason why he admires us so much.
It’s all about the “contrast between the roughness of the players when they’re on the field of play and their friendliness afterwards,” writes Lièvremont. “It’s as if there are two facets – each one diametrically opposed to the other – dormant in each Irishman. The common point between each one could be generosity. With its solidarity, its courage and its panache, the Irish pack has always proved itself dangerous and unpredictable. And by the human warmth and friendliness that it shows particularly during the ‘third half’, the Irish team has always shown itself to be generous.”
44-year-old Senegalese-born Lièvremont was brought up in Argelès-sur-Mer and came from a large rugby-playing family (all six of his brothers and his only sister played or are still playing rugby). After a stellar career of his own as a player, he had very mixed fortunes during his four-year tenure as national coach, having coached France to a Grand Slam in 2010 but then leaving in moustachioed ignominy after last year’s World Cup, where the players were effectively managing themselves.
Lièvremont goes on to say that Irish rugby “sometimes lacks in precision or technique. It might even seem a bit haphazard at times and you would have to say that it doesn’t have the finesse of the Welsh game or the brute force of the English one. But more than the others, the Irish player has the ‘fighting spirit’: that esprit de combat that animates him and transcends him as soon as he enters the field of play.
“Pierre Villepreux (former French captain and fly-half) told me an anecdote that perfectly illustrates what playing a match in Dublin means. During a spontaneous ruck, Ken Kennedy, the famous Irish hooker of the 1970s, places his studs on his stomach. He looks at him and imparts with a smile out of the corner of his mouth: ‘It isn’t every day that you meet a three-quarters with such talent!’ After the match, the two men meet again over a drink and a solid friendship is forged between them. The famous Doctor Kennedy even became the personal physician of Pierre… That’s Ireland! On the field of play, one gets a fight; Off the field of play, it’s all about humanity.”
Lièvremont concludes by saying that he loves “this island and its inhabitants because they represent what rugby is all about. Here, you find the alternation between moments of pain and moments of fraternity.” When he was coach, he says that he has always tried to inspire a similar esprit de combat in his players. The French team succeeded in ending their losing streak at the Aviva and he believes that they will go on to register their first win of the season against Scotland next weekend and that by the end of the match against the Irish, they had indeed borrowed their Fighting Spirit.