Ireland count on the unpredictable

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reports from Johannesburg

Terry Kingston will demand a generous measure of the spirit that disconcerted the All Blacks a fortnight ago when his team play France in today's World Cup quarter-final in Durban, though the likely outcome is the same: another, quite possibly glorious, Irish failure.

"We took a lot of confidence from the New Zealand game," the captain said yesterday. "Going on to the field, I remember saying it's no point trying to contain the All Blacks; we've got to go out and beat them. Our attitude will have to be exactly the same against France."

The one slight problem with this is that, manfully though they fought, Ireland still lost 43-19 - which would be comfortably the worst Irish defeat by the All Blacks but for the 53-9 trouncing in 1992.

But at least they had given the Blacks some cause for unease - which is more than could be said of the Welsh - and to go on and win a quarter-final place is a triumph in its own right. From here on in, though, it is straw-clutching time or, as Kingston put it: "If we are to beat France, it's going to have to be one of our best performances ever."

Remembering the 1991 quarter-final when they lost at the last gasp to Australia, it is just about feasible. On the other hand, the effect on the ever-changeable French mood of their own last-gasp effort in beating Scotland last Saturday, and so avoiding New Zealand, is bound to be beneficial.

Which is ominous for the Irish. Guy Laporte, the French manager, began the tournament by pointing out that his own players caused him far greater concern than any of their opponents and the fascination of King's Park will be less to do with Ireland than with whether the manager's concern is any longer justified.

If anything, the problem for Laporte and Pierre Berbizier, the coach, is whether their team will have lurched to the opposite extreme after beating the Scots. Berbizier has been doing his best to remind them that the Irish should not be taken lightly. "The World Cup is a special occasion and they will give it all they have," he said. "We saw them give New Zealand a hard time and we recall they nearly beat Australia in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup."

For a direct form-line, we need look back no further than March when France won 25-7 in Dublin. As they did so without impressing, it shows how poor Ireland were, though French superiority was based on a strong scrum and line-out, and these are two areas where the Irish have done surprisingly well here.

But it is 12 years since they defeated France and there is no reason beyond the illogical to anticipate the end of that dismal sequence unless it is the unpredictable effect of simply being in a World Cup quarter- final. "The occasion will get to everybody," Noel Murphy, the Ireland manager, gasped.