O'DRISCOLL MISSES CROKER FOR A SECOND TIME:
Brian O'Driscoll and Peter Stringer must have the unwanted honour of being the two most disappointed men in Ireland at present. Nursing hamstring and hand injuries respectively, the pair's absence from Ireland's first ever outing at Croke Park is a crushing disappointment to both - February 11 will be an historic day, but they will not be part of it.
The positive is that there is another chance for them to grace the turf at Croker - in two weeks' time against England. A fortnight to recover and another chance for O'Driscoll to edge closer to Keith Wood's captaincy record of 36 Tests. He currently stands on 34.
Ironically, this is the second time in O'Driscoll's life that circumstances have gone against him where Croke Park is concerned. Aged 11, the Irish skipper was a noted Gaelic footballer, playing for Belgrove Boys Primary School in Clontarf, but a switch of schools to Blackrock College - Willow Park initially - tilted his world towards rugby. Thus he missed out on Belgrove's appearance in an underage final at Croke Park, some months later.
BIRTHDAY BOY LOOKING FOR MATT FINISH:
Whatever way his team-mates choose to celebrate his 27th birthday on Saturday, Gordon D'Arcy can be excused for having other things on his mind. A dream will come true for the Leinster centre when he plays at Croke Park on Sunday, a venue where he has supported his beloved home county on many occasions.
"I love coming to Croke Park to watch Wexford play with my Wexford jersey on - there's always a fantastic atmosphere," he said. "I can't say I've been to the stadium too many times watching them win, but I have been!"
D'Arcy will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his good friend, Wexford footballer Mattie Forde, who claimed an All-Star award in 2004 for his devastating finishing in front of goal.
A keen visitors to Donnybrook and Lansdowne Road, Forde previously played rugby for Gorey. He struck up a friendship with D'Arcy at a golf function in Enniscorthy a couple of years ago, and the pair have remained good pals since, even swapping jerseys.
FLASHBACK: IRELAND 9 FRANCE 10, Lansdowne Road, February 6, 1999):
Scorers: Ireland: Pens: David Humphreys
France: Try: Richard Dourthe; Con: Thomas Castaignede; Pen: Castaignede
The last ever 'Five' Nations tournament and Ireland's opening match ended up looking more like a paintball battle.
Dye from sponsors' logos on the pitch, which had been painted on the previous day, famously ran as the rain tumbled down from the Dublin sky. It had players like Irish hooker Keith Wood looking more fearsome than ever as jerseys, shorts and heads, in Wood's case, became splattered in red and blue. After only 20 minutes, the players bore more resemblance to a crowd of playschool kids after a painting session, than professional rugby players.
As for the match, Warren Gatland's home side led for the entire game until Thomas Castaignede, the French out-half, struck a last-minute penalty to deny them.
Afterwards, French captain Raphael Ibanez, who will also lead Les Bleus at Croke Park this weekend, spoke of it being the toughest match he had ever played in.
"The intensity was extreme - as hard as I have ever known it - and the Irish really deserved a result but Thomas held his nerve and we still have our dream of the third title in-a-row alive."
Ireland's points came from three David Humphreys penalties - the Ulster out-half had an injury-time shot at the post, but he pulled his penalty just wide of the uprights.
The Irish went 9-0 in front but were pulled back in the 61st-minute when a quick tap penalty from the French produced a rolling maul and centre Richard Dourthe, coming in on the end of it, was adjudged to have got the touch down. Castaigneded converted and then dashed Ireland's hopes at the death.
Ireland: Conor O'Shea; Justin Bishop, Kevin Maggs, Jonny Bell, Girvan Dempsey; David Humphreys, Conor McGuinness; Peter Clohessy, Keith Wood, Paul Wallace, Paddy Johns, Jeremy Davidson, Eric Miller, Dion O'Cuinneagain (capt), Victor Costello.
Replacements: Rob Henderson, Eric Elwood, Ciaran Scally, Trevor rennan, Mick Galwey, Justin Fitzpatrick, Ross Nesdale.
France: Emile Ntamack; Philippe Bernat-Salles, Richard Dourthe, Franck Comba, Thomas Lombard; Thomas Castaignede, Philippe Carbonneau; Christian Califano, Raphael Ibanez (capt), Franck Tournaire, Olivier Brouzet, Fabien Pelous, Philippe Benetton, Olivier Magne, Thomas Lievremont.
Replacements: Christophe Laussucq, Artur Gomes, David Aucagne, Marc Raynaud, Thierry Cleda, Sylvain Marconnet, Marc Dal Maso.
Referee: Peter Marshall (Australia)
FRENCH ARMY DRAW A BLANK:
Bernard Behan, from Tully East in Kildare, was the hero for the Irish Army's rugby team at the Curragh on Friday afternoon. He kicked all of their points in a 12-0 defeat of the French Army.
"I was following up a kick and the ball happened to break to me, I was lucky enough to scoop it up on the run and get across the line and it was definitely a dream start. It was definitely a boost it's just a pity we couldn't build on that from there and it got a bit disjointed."
- Ireland hooker Rory Best talks about his early try in last week's 19-9 win over Wales
"If we win, we will have the cards in hand to win the tournament, and if we lose it will be them."
- France coach Bernard Laporte reckons Sunday's clash at Croke Park will decide the destination of the Six Nations title
"Kicking at somewhere like Thomond Park is easy. I know my range, I know my boundaries, I know my target. This (playing at Croke Park) is like playing on an away pitch. It will take getting used to. It is probably like playing in somewhere like one of the oval grounds in Australia."
- Ireland out-half Ronan O'Gara gives his thoughts on kicking at Croke Park
3: The number of matches Ireland have won against France since 2000. In eight meetings since then, the Irish have triumphed in 2000, 2001 and 2003
193: The amount of caps Ireland's record caps holder Malcolm O'Kelly and Fabien Pelous, France's most-capped player, have collected between them. Both players miss Sunday's game through injury - incredibly this is the first time that both of the experienced locks have sat out an Ireland-France fixture since 1995.
O'Kelly made his debut in November 1997 and since then, has only missed the Ireland-France clash in '99 (due to injury). Pelous, who debuted in October 1995, has played in every fixture between the Irish and French since February '96 - totalling 12 Test matches
2: The number of times Paul O'Connell has stepped in to captain Ireland when Brian O'Driscoll was injured. O'Connell skippered Ireland against France (2004) and Scotland (2005) and will do so again on Sunday - ironically, all three times O'Driscoll has had a hamstring injury