By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — On the back of two unexpected Six Nations victories, Ireland will have its biggest test of the season so far Sunday in Paris. Anyone who routinely claims that French wine is the only commodity that doesn’t travel well has clearly not been delving into Irish rugby history.
The last time Ireland won in Paris was as far back as 1972 when professionalism and win bonuses were unheard of. Since then, most of the games between the two countries have ended in ritual Irish humiliation.
Two years ago — in Warren Gatland’s first match as national coach — the Irish almost pulled off a shock victory. But France were complacent and lethargic that day, expecting another slaughter rather than being prepared to work for it.
With those record victories over Scotland and Italy, Ireland have lost the advantage of subterfuge which almost produced the ambush of 1998. France will have done their video analysis of the new look men in green who are suddenly scoring tries with the sort of verve and imagination that we thought was a preserve of the southern hemisphere.
The rave reviews handed out to Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer were well deserved, but how they survive an intimidating baptism in the Stade de France will tell much about their international futures.
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The same for the other new faces, John Hayes and Simon Easterby, but, unfortunately, Shane Horgan seems unlikely to add to his three championship tries this season. The Lansdowne winger injured his knee last weekend and will probably miss out.
St. Mary’s and Terenure are sharing top spot in Division One of the All Ireland League. St. Mary’s struggled to see off the bottom club Clontarf by 23-16, while Terenure ground out a valuable 12-10 home victory over Shannon.
Third-place Young Munster missed the opportunity to move clear of the Dublin clubs when they lost by 28-19 to Ballymena. Lansdowne stayed in fourth with a 35-16 success at Dungannon, Garryowen kept their playoff hopes alive by beating Buccaneers 22-12 and DLSP registered a first win of the season by defeating champions Cork Constitution 34-30.