Play! Play! France-Ireland: 120 Years of Rugby
On the occasion of the Rugby World Cup 2023, the Embassy of Ireland and the CCI celebrate the rugby relationship between France and Ireland: 120 years of a vibrant, colourful history.
France-Ireland: 120 Years of Rugby
France has played Ireland in international rugby for more than a century. It is a vibrant, colourful history that has been transformed from the first meeting in Dublin just after St. Patrick’s Day, 1909 to the modern professional contests that are now part of Six Nations and World Cup competitions. These matches are the centrepiece of a sporting relationship that extends across every aspect of rugby from club and school matches to women’s rugby.
The story of this rugby rivalry is part of a much broader cultural exchange between Ireland and France. It has drawn together people who would not otherwise have met. Flows of men and women between the two countries have deepened connections in a way that has benefitted people for many years.
Across the decades, the rugby matches, and everything that has happened around them, reflect the dramatic changes that have taken place in the social, cultural, political and economic life of both countries. This is story of a rivalry, that is also the story of a friendship, and it has a meaning that extends far beyond sport and the game of rugby.
The French captain Paul Mauriat meets the Irish captain William Victor Edwards before the 1912 international in Paris. Edwards died fighting near Jerusalem in 1917 while serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers
© Bibliothèque nationale de France/ gallica.bnf.fr
France's Coco Lindelauf tackles Linda Djougang of Ireland in the Stade Ernest-Wallon during the Women's Six Nations Championship in 2022
© INPHO/Bryan Keane
In their similarities and in their differentiation, the national traditions of both Ireland and France are richly interlinked. … [These] strong cultural bonds and influences exist, not just between the writers, thinkers, politicians, chefs, poets, painters of these two nations, but also, most powerfully in the imagination and hearts of their peoples.
Benjamin Keatinge and Mary Pierse, 'France and Ireland in the Public Imagination'
The development of rugby in Ireland and in France was hugely influenced by the cultural reach of the British Empire in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The power and prestige of that Empire facilitated the spread of rugby and other Anglocentric sports such as soccer, cricket and tennis, across the world.
Rugby spread almost immediately to Ireland; the relationship between two islands united in one kingdom ensured that Ireland was well represented through the formative years of modern sports. Trinity College Dublin was the staging post for many of the new sports on their arrival in Ireland. The first rugby club in the country was founded there in 1854. Trinity graduates were central to the spread of rugby across Ireland and in the establishment of the Irish Rugby Football Union in the 1870s. Rugby took hold in wealthier schools which – following the model of their counterparts in England – laid out pitches for their students to play the game. These boys established clubs in Ireland’s cities and towns as they grew to men and went out to work. Rugby became established as a game of the Irish middle classes, spreading to every county. An Irish international team played its first match against England in 1875 and took part in the Four Nations championship – where Wales and Scotland also played – from 1883.
The spread of rugby to France was also heavily influenced by the economic and cultural power of the British Empire. Firstly, British expatriates founded a rugby club at Le Havre in 1872 and later the Paris Football Club in 1879. Secondly, support for the game in France was fostered by an “aristocratic Anglophilia” that was epitomised by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, who promoted the idea that the French should adopt English sport. This helped spread the game into elite French schools, leading in turn to the establishment of the first indigenous French clubs: Racing Club de France in 1882 and Stade Français in 1883. These two clubs played each other in the first ever French ‘national’ final in 1892, in a match refereed by de Coubertin. When the game spread across the rest of the country, it was driven by British expatriates and by teachers and students. Slowly at first – and then quickly – it enjoyed enormous cross-class support, especially in the south-west; it started to become a game of the people in France in a way that it did not then manage in many parts of Ireland or Britain. It fielded a national team for the first time in a test match against the All Blacks in Paris in 1906 and then later that year played England for the first time.
Irish team, 1894
The committee venture to remind Irishmen that these international contests, conducted as they always are in the most friendly spirit, have a direct and very powerful tendency to remove international asperities, and to inspire the youth of either country with mutual feelings of respect and toleration.
Circular issued by the newly established Irish (Rugby) Football Union following its inaugural meeting in 1874.
The crowd was the last thing on our minds and we simply played, as true amateurs, for ourselves, and for the joy of exchanging, between friends, a few spoken and active amusements.
Louis Dedet, Stade Français forward, 1890s
Shortly before 3.30pm on 20 March 1909, the band of the Dublin Metropolitan Police struck up ‘La Marseillaise’ and the French international team ran out onto the pitch at Lansdowne Road for the first time. Soon afterwards, they were joined by the Irish team who were greeted by huge cheers. Hundreds of French supporters were in Dublin to see the first match between the two countries. They took horse-drawn carriages and trams out to Lansdowne Road as part of a crowd estimated at more than 5,000. In the end, the Irish won comfortably, but a first step had been taken in what would prove to be a magnificent rivalry.
That match was not actually the first time French rugby players had come to Dublin. That accolade belongs to Stade Français, who played against Dublin University in College Park back in 1900. That match had also resulted in an easy victory for the Irish students.
When Ireland travelled to play in Paris at the end of March 1910, it was as part of the Five Nations championship to which France had just been formally admitted. Despite the “long journey and the heat of the day”, Ireland won by five points. Irish players, officials and supporters were cheered off from the Westland Row train station in Dublin when they went to Paris via London by train and boat.
It was not long before matches became much more competitive. By January 1914, when Ireland returned to Paris, the newspapers reported “an even game” played in the snow in front of up to 20,000 people in Parc des Princes. That the French team now included players from outside Paris made it much more competitive. Ireland won narrowly, but the seeds of future French victories had been sown.
Until quite recently, France has never been seriously considered as a football country, but what she has done this year suggests that before very long, and with a few more lessons, she may take her place in the game without consideration of any kind.
The Irish Times, 22 March 1909
The Great War
In late March 1913, the French team came by boat to Cork to play Ireland in the Five Nations. The city filled with French people and more than 8,000 people watched Ireland win. After the game, many of the crowd and all of the players went out to Cork Park to a Bank Holiday Saturday horse race meeting.
Within a couple of years, players from both teams fought and died in the Great War. Among the players who lost their lives were Ireland’s Albert Lewis Stewart and France’s Albert Eutropius.
Albert Eutropius had been born in French Guiana, before moving to Paris where he played for Sporting Club Universitaire de France. The match against Ireland was the only time he was capped by France; soon afterwards he moved to Africa where he served in the French colonial service. When the Great War started, he was sent to Cameroon, where he was a second lieutenant. He died there on 26 May 1915, having been shot in the head. His name stands on the war memorial at Cayenne.
Albert Lewis Stewart was a chartered accountant from Belfast. He joined the 36th Ulster Division when the war started and fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1915. Although he survived the carnage of that battle, he was subsequently killed at Passchendale in October 1917. He was 28 when he died and is buried in Belgium. There are many other Irish rugby players – who played for club and country – buried in France, their names recorded on War Memorials in France and in Ireland.
In all, some 130 international rugby players died in the Great War. Some were celebrated as being among the sporting stars of their era; others were much less well known. Alongside them, thousands of other rugby players who played in clubs, in schools and in universities also lost their lives. Many more carried the scars of the war through the rest of their lives.
French and Irish players gather in the Stade de Colombes at a monument to rugby players who lost their lives during the Great War
© Bibliothèque nationale de France/ gallica.bnf.fr
’Mackie’ was genuine to the core. I cannot possibly forget those memorable days of our friendship, when we shared the ups and downs of a football career, in which he always bore the brunt of attack to make my way easy and to make me conspicuous.
Henry Walter (‘Harry’) Jack on his lifelong friend and Irish teammate Vincent McNamara who died fighting at Gallipoli in 1915.
Maurice was, when playing, a remarkable and fearless unit. Once the ball was in his possession, he had a quick and determined run.
Georges André, the Olympic sprinter and international winger, on his teammate Maurice Boyau who died when shot in his fighter-plane in the last months of the war.
Between the Wars
Rugby boomed in popularity in both France and Ireland during the 1920s. In Ireland, the number of clubs and the number of players playing the game grew. By 1929 there were 160 clubs and 59 schools affiliated to the IRFU. Every province in the country saw its playing numbers increase, with the growth in Munster being particularly strong. This growth was driven by the establishment of new competitions – particularly ones for junior clubs – and was most noted in country towns; rugby spread into areas where it had never previously enjoyed any favour. The growth of the game at school level – a growth driven by members of the Catholic clergy across the Irish Free State – was also crucial. Lansdowne Road was renovated and a new ground was developed at Ravenhill to allow for the playing of rugby internationals north and south of the new border which now partitioned the island.
In France, the popularity of rugby was reflected in how it was represented in popular culture. The 1920s silent film ‘La Grande Passion’ starring Lil Dagover was a great success in the cinema, and among the cast was Adolphe Jauréguy, the French rugby player who featured as the captain of the French national team. Similarly popular was the serialised novel and film ‘Le P’tit Parigot’, the story of a rugby player who overcame many obstacles to play for France. The spread of radio brought another new form of technology where rugby took centre-stage with the first live match commentary in 1923.
Rugby internationals between the two countries began again in 1920 when France won for the first time in Dublin. With many French players now coming from the south-west of the country where the popularity of the game had exploded, France began to emerge as a genuine international force. The game was transformed from one dominated by elite amateurs to now truly becoming the game of the people. The result was an international team that was now competitive.
Et bien parmi tous ces sports athlétiques ; Le plus joli, C'est le rugby.
(Well of all these athletic sports; The prettiest, Is rugby.)
Lyric from Maurice Chevalier, ‘Rugby-Marche’ (1924)
France play Ireland in Belfast in 1928
© Bibliothèque nationale de France/ gallica.bnf.fr
Between 1920 and 1931, France and Ireland played each other a dozen times, with Ireland winning seven matches and France five. Every match was closely fought. Despite the partition of Ireland in 1922, the rugby team continued to include players from both sides of the border. From the middle of the 1920s, the Irish played their home match against France in Belfast, drawing crowds that rose to 25,000. Still more came to see the games played in Paris: by 1928 some 42,000 people came to see a contest at the Stade Colombes. This was an annual international match that was now a hugely popular sporting and cultural spectacle.
In the early 1930s, tensions which had grown around the rise of French rugby grew to such an extent that France was banned from the Five Nations championship from 1931. There were two basic issues at the heart of French expulsion. The first was the illicit professionalism that was deemed to be corrupting an avowedly amateur game with many stories circulating around the paying of French players. The second was the perceived brutal nature of the game, particularly in the south-west, where it was considered to have created a violence that was almost institutionalised and ritualised. For the remainder of the 1930s, France remained isolated and was not permitted to play in the Five Nations championship. The re-establishment of matches between the two countries was delayed further by the outbreak of the Second World War.
Playing for Ireland was something more to me than just getting ‘a cap’. … ‘Ireland’, they yelled as we came on to the ground at Lansdowne Road, and for a moment we were ‘Ireland’ to that vast crowd of our fellow-countrymen. I had taken my place with the ‘men in green jerseys’, the heroes of my childhood. It thrilled my imagination beyond the possibility of analysis.
Robert Collis, 'The Silver Fleece' (1936)
Post-World War Two
On 26 January 1946, Ireland played France in an unofficial match at Lansdowne Road. It was proclaimed by the IRFU as a “red letter day for Irish rugby”, as it marked the return of international matches after the war. France won by 4-3 and was readmitted to the Five Nations championship in 1947, but it was Ireland who enjoyed greater success in the immediate post-war years. Indeed, Ireland won the first ever Grand Slam in its history in 1948, having started the campaign with a France 13-6 victory in the Stade Olympique de Colombes.
Steadily, however, France grew in strength and won the country’s first ever Five Nations’ championship in 1954. That same year, France defeated New Zealand in a test match and in 1958 became the first country to defeat South Africa on its own soil. Then, in 1968, France won its first Grand Slam. What was apparent was that this was now “a golden age in terms of the sparkling rugby-champagne served up by the national side”.
The context for these matches in which the expansion of air travel transformed sport in the decades after World War Two was unprecedented. It made possible the development of more frequent international contests and allowed also for a dramatic increase in the number of supporters who now travelled to support their teams. Rugby internationals in Paris and Dublin offered great opportunities for socialising, with drinking, dining, singing and general conviviality adding to the sporting experience. From the very first matches between the two countries, supporters had travelled by boat and train. The speed and relatively more affordable growth of commercial air travel saw the numbers of travellers swell well into their thousands.
For clubs, too, the opportunity to travel was embraced as often as was possible. The popularity of a ‘jet-age’ French tour was enormous in an amateur era where players needed to return to their jobs. A great example of this was the 1958 Leinster tour where they flew to France and played in Toulouse, and repeated this on several occasions during the 1960s. For their part, Toulouse came back to play twice in Dublin. Many clubs undertook similar tours during these decades before the advent of professionalism.
Between 1975 and 2000, Ireland beat France only once and never managed even a draw in Paris. These were years when the max of French panache and physical power overwhelmed the Irish. In the process, many of their players became household names in Ireland as the matches were now also always on television. Among the TV audience was a man in Paris who claimed to never watch television otherwise. Samuel Beckett once explained that he loved rugby, particularly the Irish out-half Ollie Campbell, and claimed to an Irish poet John Montague that it was only for this reason that he had a television: “Only for the games and only when the Irish play.”
Irish and French supporters in the Parc des Princes in 1982.
© INPHO/Billy Stickland
When our rugby, rid of its old inferiority complex, spreads its wings in the spring sunshine, may we not call it joyful? Why give its young and smiling face a monocle?
Abbé Henri Piste, 1960
Very crafty, very nippy, try him at fly-half. He might surprise you when the light is fading.
Samuel Beckett explains why he would have picked James Joyce on a rugby team, despite his failing sight.
France’s Serge Blanco goes by Simon Geoghegan of Ireland to score a try in Lansdowne Road in 1981
© INPHO/Billy Stickland
The game of rugby was transformed at the end of the twentieth century. Years of sham amateurism (particularly after the establishment of the Rugby World Cup in 1987) had eventually forced the hand of the International Rugby Board and professionalism was declared permissible in 1995.
The professionalisation of rugby saw Ireland initially struggle, but the IRFU then developed four professional franchises based on the four provinces of Ireland. The leading Irish players were now held on central contracts to the IRFU, allowing for the national team to take precedence in the management of the players. The result was the most sustained period of success in its history, with Ireland defeating every leading rugby-playing country. Grand Slams were won in 2009, 2018 and 2023, as were six triple crowns (2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2018 and 2022). Against the backdrop of these successes, rugby in Ireland has gained a profile that it never previously enjoyed, with extended television coverage and increased match attendances.
In France, too, professionalism has taken the game to new levels of popularity and success. On three occasions, the national team has reached the final of the Rugby World Cup, only to suffer narrow defeats. In the new millennium, they have won the Six Nations championship on six occasions, including completing a Grand Slam on four occasions (2002, 2004, 2010 and 2022).
Ireland and France have met four times at World Cups, with France winning the matches in 1995, 2003 and 2007, and Ireland in 2015. There have been iconic matches in the Six Nations, also, such as the first ever rugby match played at Croke Park in Dublin in 2007. After this game, the President of the French Federation of Rugby Union, Bernard Lapasset, said: “It was a big honour for us to be the first country to play Ireland in this stadium. We know the historical nature of this place, not just for sport, but for the story of Ireland. A lot of French people came to Dublin especially for this special match.”
Stade de France is my favourite stadium. Going from Lansdowne Road to the surface over there was the difference between a farmer’s field and a golf green. But it wasn’t just that, it was everything about the place. The walk to the pitch must be what it was like entering the Colosseum. The bad experiences Ireland have had in Paris during my time never changed how I felt about the place. As a rugby player this is where you wanted to be.
Ronan O’Gara, 'My Autobiography' (2008).
A clash between the two best nations in the world. Vengeful Irish. Ambitious French. Talent everywhere. Colossuses on both sides. So we suspected that this clash would be a sparkler. But we were not prepared for this level of intensity, madness, restarts, counter-attacks, tackles and fighting. The first half of this Ireland-France match was the epitome of play and intensity. Teams giving blow for blow. Sumptuous actions.
David Reyat, "Le XV de France tombe à Dublin avec les honneurs", Le Figaro, 11 February 2023
In this new millennium, the rivalry has never been more intense and some of the best rugby matches played in the world have been between Ireland and France. The most recent Six Nations match in Dublin – narrowly won by Ireland on 11 February 2023 – stands as one of the best games in the history of the competition. It was a fitting contest between two countries who were then at the top of the World Rankings, with Ireland at number one and France at number two.
Club Rugby: A New Era
Club rugby in France and Ireland has been transformed by the European Rugby Champions Cup. Toulouse won the competition when it was first held in 1996 and since then have gone on to be the most successful club, winning a record six titles. Toulon (three times), Brive and La Rochelle have also been crowned champions of Europe, while six other French clubs have been defeated finalists. In Ireland, the quest to win the European Cup quickly became an obsession for the newly professional provinces. Ulster succeeded in 1999, Munster won it in 2006 and 2008, and Leinster won it in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2018. Along the way, trips to France became iconic adventures for players and spectators alike.
The appeal of rugby in both countries has been demonstrated by the record crowds that have attended matches in the professional era. At Croke Park in Dublin in 2009, a new world record attendance for attendance at a club rugby union game was set when 82,208 watched Leinster defeat Munster in the semi-final of the European Cup. The passion for rugby in France’s heartlands is also extraordinary: when the final of the Top 14 competition is played in Stade de France, the attendance reaches 80,000; while in 2016 almost 100,000 spectators travelled to the Camp Nou in Barcelona to see Racing 92 defeat Toulon to claim the championship.
Leinster v La Rochelle, Champions Cup Final, 2023
© INPHO/Ben Brady
A beautiful sunny day and one of my favourite games of all time. People came from Brussels and Paris and from all over Europe. We had a new travelling support.
Mick Galway remembers Munster beating Toulouse in 2000 in the European semi-final. It was the day the Red Army was born, as 5,000 Munster fans travelled to Bordeaux for the match.
There is no denying the prejudice endured by women who wished to play rugby . The first international rugby match involving French women was not played until 1982 and the first played by Irish women was played only in 1993. The two countries did not play each other until 1994. That almost 90 years should have passed from the game first played between Irishmen and Frenchmen says multitudes about the scale of discrimination which ran through sport in its modern form.
Almost every national and international organisation, which now governs sport, was founded in the years between 1850 and 1900. These institutions reflected the gender prejudices of the times in which they were formed. This was – emphatically – a man’s world and sport reflected this simple fact. The sporting male was to be strong, vigorous and tough. Women who sought to counter this prejudice had also to counter ‘scientific’ claims that excessive sporting activity could diminish a woman’s capacity to have children. In this belief, women were considered only to have a fixed amount of energy and wasting it on sporting activity deflected them from fulfilling the roles of wife and mother. In time – but only slowly – the boundaries began to shift. This shift reflected the changing place of women in society. Independent women sought their own place in the world, working in the civil service, graduating from universities, living on their own.
Sport played a significant part in shifting the perceptions of what a woman was capable of doing. That women began to redefine sport for themselves is a tribute to the pioneering few who defied the conventions of their age. In the late nineteenth century, the response of sporting women was to create an alternative sporting culture around lacrosse and netball; they also established their own organisations for golf and camogie, for example, and women’s tennis became hugely popular. But there was no playing place for women in rugby for much of the twentieth century. It is true that there were occasional glimpses of opportunity. Women’s rugby seemed set to take root in France in the 1920s, for example, and in various countries women played informally or joined in matches played by boys, but the potential for women’s rugby was lost in a fog of chauvinism.
It was not until the 1970s that women’s rugby began to be properly organised in France. This was a reflection of the social change underway, but it was change that was slow in coming and impeded by the antipathy of the men who ran rugby. By 1982, women’s rugby had sufficiently advanced to allow for the first ever international test match, played between France and Holland in Utrecht.
French rugby international Lenaig Corson
© INPHO/Bryan Keane
Rugby is inappropriate for girls or women for obvious psychological reasons. It is dangerous, both physically and morally. That is why I urge you not to help women’s rugby.
French Minister for Sports, Colonel Marceau Crespin, 1969
French women playing rugby in 1922
© Bibliothèque nationale de France/ gallica.bnf.fr
In Ireland, the boundaries shifted more slowly – but they did shift nonetheless. During the 1980s rugby matches were played on an ad-hoc basis by a growing number of Irish women who – by the end of the 1980s – numbered some 200. This led, in turn, to the establishment of the All-Ireland Rugby League in November 1992 with teams drawn from as far apart as Belfast, Dublin and Limerick, and to the establishment of the Irish Women’s Rugby Football Union. It is a simple fact that women’s rugby was not supported properly by the existing men’s teams. It is true that Blackrock Rugby Club brought the women’s team into their structure, provided training facilities and expertise, and gave their grounds for matches. But most clubs simply ignored what was happening. As Mary O’Beirne, the president of the new Irish Women’s Rugby Football Union, pointed out at the time, this was extremely short-sighted: “If more Irish rugby clubs were to become involved with women’s rugby, I feel it would be to the clubs’ advantage and widen the scope of the game.”
In the years that followed those pioneering efforts in Ireland, there were many setbacks. Something of a Golden Age dawned when an outstanding group of players profited from the general rise in interest and success in Irish rugby to claim a Grand Slam in the Six Nations in 2013. This was followed in 2014 with a semi-final place in the World Cup, thanks to a win against New Zealand, and then the Six Nations Championship was won again in 2015. Ireland also staged the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017.
Ireland first met France in a women’s rugby match at the World Cup in Scotland in 1994. France won by 31-0. For the following decade, France won every meeting between the two teams with some comfort, indeed Ireland regularly failed to score. It was only in 2009 that Ireland managed to defeat France for the first time and in the years that followed there were a series of outstanding matches between the two countries. There have also been a series of matches at Sevens level, between universities and schools, and between Irish and French clubs. The growth is clear: more players, more teams, more media exposure and bigger crowds. But the legacy of discrimination also remains undeniable in the ongoing difference in so many aspects of the rugby experiences of Irish and French men as against those of Irish and French women.
At last, my chance came. I got the ball. I can still feel the damp leather and the smell of it and see the tag of lacing at the opening. I grasped it and ran dodging, darting, but I was so keen to score that try that I did not pass it, perhaps when I should. … A ragged cheer went up from the spectators. I grinned at my brothers. It was all I had hoped for.
Emily Valentine, writing in her journal of the day in 1887 when, as a ten-year-old, she was asked to play for her brothers’ team in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh
The Irish in France; The French in Ireland
The French influence on Irish rugby extends back to the nineteenth century and is profound. It is most obvious in the establishment of secondary schools where rugby remains the central sport. The school that grew into Blackrock College was founded in 1860 by the French missionary Jules Leman of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost and already by the end of the nineteenth century it was recognised as a rugby nursery. Over the following decades the influence of French people in Ireland on rugby was deep and varied. For example, after the establishment of Clontarf Football Club it rented its first ground for £3, from Monsieur George, a horse buyer for the French Army. Much later, Irish rugby administrators understood the extent to which the Irish could benefit from drawing on the French approach to playing rugby. To this end, in the 1960s, French coaches, one of whom was Julian Saby, the chief rugby coach in France, were brought to Ireland to give courses on rugby skills and physical fitness. This was repeated in the 1970s when Gerard Murillo, a French rugby wing and centre in the 1950s, gave coaching courses in Ireland. That decade also saw the playing of ‘Educative Rugby’ in Ireland; this was a new form of underage rugby which was set up on a French model to encourage ‘running rugby’, with only tries allowed. The Irish Independent noted that this method had “been instrumental in the remarkable progress made by France”. Later, in 1993, another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Bodis, wrote the best history yet to be published on Irish rugby: Le Rugby d’Irlande: Identité, Territorialité.
After the game was professionalised in 1995, Irish players and professionals made new lives for themselves in France. The first high-profile player to make the journey was Ireland and Leinster second-row Trevor Brennan, who moved to France in 2002 to play for Stade Toulousain in the Top 14. Brennan played in three consecutive European finals Toulouse between 2003 and 2005, winning two. He owned and ran a number of bars in Toulouse and remained in France after his playing retirement, while his son Daniel captained France Under 20s team. Later, in 2013, Jonathan Sexton, moved to play for Racing 92 for two years; it was a move which stunned the rugby world. Other high-profile Irish players – from Donncha Ryan to Simon Zebo and Linda Djougang – later moved to play in France. The most successful Irish coach in France has been Ronan O’Gara, He began his coaching career in 2013 with Racing 92 and then – after a spell in New Zealand – returned in 2019 as Head Coach of La Rochelle. O’Gara’s impact was immense and immediate as he brought La Rochelle to three European Cup finals. La Rochelle defeated Leinster in 2022, winning the first major trophy in the club’s history, and in 2023.
Irish international Ultan Dillane celebrates with the Champions Cup trophy he won playing with La Rochelle in 2023.
© INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
What an adventure it would be to live and play in France!
Jonathan Sexton, 2013
If I had not been born French, I would have been happy to represent Ireland. I like the tragic, their empathy, their taste for all things larger than life. In fact, I have a real weakness for them. Their dramatic fighting spirit. More than fondness, I feel a certain kind of admiration. If I hadn’t been born French, I would have been very happy to be Irish.
Jean-Pierre Rives, 2015
To The Future
The story of the rugby rivalry between France and Ireland is remade with every season. The pioneers who organised the first matches could not have imagined the extraordinary impact of their deeds and the generations of players who have followed in their wake. Their legacy extends far beyond sport. Technological change – the invention of aeroplanes, radio, television and, more recently, the Internet – has pushed the two countries closer together by facilitating more frequent matches to be played and watched. That players and coaches find new homes in each other’s countries is a very modern tale. It is testament to the globalised nature of modern sport in a new millennium. It is also testament to a shared love of play and a cultural exchange that binds together Ireland and France. This is a history that has been many decades in the making. It is rooted in individual and collective experience that has benefitted both countries. And it seems certain that this is something that will deepen in the coming years.
I really think that rugby has become my second skin. It is my new life, totally. It is the central theme of my day, and will be, I am certain of it, until I die.
Serge Blanco, ‘Ce Fabuleux Rugby’ (2015)
Curator: Paul Rouse, sports historian and journalist