It has not been a good week for the Irish in Melbourne. A one-point defeat by Australia, when the world champions were on the ropes, followed by the startling failure of the favourite, Mamool, in the Melbourne Cup. Torn betting slips and hearts throughout Victoria.
It would all, of course, be a distant memory if Ireland managed to overcome France in the quarter-finals. It is possible. The Irish have the firepower, the will and the belief. They have also won three of their last four meetings against France.
Keith Wood, the captain who is playing in his first quarter-final, said: "We have to have the view we can win. If for one minute some of the players don't think we are going to do it, it becomes quite a struggle. Do you want to spend four years after the game saying 'if only'?''
Wood, who is contemplating retirement, added: "France have a good history at the World Cup. They perform here every time. We need to be unbelievably accurate with the way we play. We need our spirit and we need our guys to do everything for their team-mates. A kitchen sink will be thrown at this one. We're not holding anything back.''
Although Ronan O'Gara, who missed a couple of key penalties against Australia, starts the match, it would be surprising if David Humphreys did not feature at some stage, in which case he would win his 60th cap, making him the fourth-most capped player in Ireland's history.
When the Ulsterman came on for O'Gara in the second half against Australia, he almost won the match with a drop goal.
"If we can play to the same level as we did against Australia, we can beat France," Humphreys said.
"We thought we could defeat Australia if we managed to slow their ball down and rattle their line-out and we managed both which is what made the defeat all the more frustrating.
"When I dropped that goal I thought it was over. I probably hit it too well. The ball normally curls back to the left but I hit it so purely that it stayed dead on line. It started off just outside the right-hand upright and missed by about 18 inches. Later I thought about all the terribly hit drop goals that have gone over for Ulster but this one missed and I couldn't have struck it any better.''
His rival O'Gara has not started a game against France for two years, his last appearance coming in February 2001 when the French were beaten 22-15 in Dublin. O'Gara's Munster partner, Peter Stringer, wins his 41st cap, making him the most capped scrum-half in a green jersey. The side shows seven changes from those who last March defeated a weakened France 15-12 in the Six Nations' Championship at Lansdowne Road, but only two from the team who rattled Australia last week. Denis Hickie, Ireland's record try-scorer who tore an Achilles tendon, is replaced by John Kelly and, in a move that would have taken a lot more deliberation, Victor Costello comes in at No 8 for Anthony Foley.
"Anthony is a phenomenal reader of the game and he's been a stalwart for us over the last few years," said the coach, Eddie O'Sullivan.
France are warm favourites, which is how Ireland like it. "They've been timing their run very well,"O'Sullivan said. "They have a lot of game-breakers in their side and a lot of pace. Being in the so-called pool of death has cost me a few hours sleep, but at the same time I knew if we could come through we would have a pretty good gauge of our worth. I'm not sure many other teams in the quarter-finals are as clear in their mind of where they are."
France are the only quarter-finalists not to have been put on the rack in the pool stages, and Wood and his pack will probably come as a shock to Les Bleus' system.
In Frédéric Michalak, the French possess the tournament's leading scorer with 78 points from two tries, 13 conversions, 13 penalties and a drop goal.
"The only thing it means is that the team has played well," Michalak said. "The Irish are on top of their form and it is going to be a very, very tough match."
Michalak says that Jonny Wilkinson, of England, Stephen Larkham, of Australia, and Carlos Spencer, of New Zealand, are his role models.
"I like the running game of Larkham. I learn a lot from watching his lines of running. Wilkinson is almost a master of everything he does. There is a lot to be learned from just seeing how he has progressed. Even a player like Spencer, who is less structured than Wilkinson is superb with the ball in his hands.''
Michalak forgot to mention O'Gara and Humphreys.Reuse content