As France now sit on the cusp of ending their improbably long wait for a Six Nations title, their timing is all the better for the presence of a home World Cup looming ever larger on the horizon.
he side that Fabien Galthie sent out to beat Ireland in Paris on Saturday is one that has been molded for three seasons now specifically with the challenge of making a run at a first Webb Ellis on their own patch next year in mind.
Back-to-back quarter-final exits at the global showpiece had sharpened their focus on a tournament that they begin with a titanic looking clash against the All Blacks in the Stade de France.
Ireland will see plenty of the venue at the tournament too. After departing in disappointment from Saint-Denis on Saturday, when Andy Farrell’s men are next on the northern outskirts of the French capital, it will be to take on the World champion Springboks. Two weeks later, they’ll be back to meet Scotland while any prospective knockout games will be there too.
It feels almost forgotten now that it could instead have been Ireland preparing for the game’s biggest tournament to be played in their backyard.
They had been the bookies’ favorite to see their bid chosen for 2023 through much of the process only to be eliminated at the first stage with only eight votes of a possible 39, a tally that controversially included neither Scotland or Wales’ backing.
South Africa was actually the assessor’s recommendation but lost the vote to France and Irish anger at the process was palpable with none other than bid ambassador Brian O’Driscoll believing that they had been used as “guinea pigs.”
The implication was that bidding for tournaments can be something of a mucky business, though it seems that nobody from the round-ball code has taken heed of the lesson so brutally handed down to their oval-ball brethren.
If they had, surely we wouldn’t have had the news last week of a joint-bid between the Irish FA, the FAI and the football associations of England, Scotland and Wales to host the European Championships in 2028.
When Ireland bid to hold the RWC, rugby didn’t have the stadia to pull it off. Today, neither does football. Indeed, it was deemed a “significant risk” to assume that the venues would be up to scratch in time…and that included a 34,000-capacity Casement Park.
Again the GAA will need to be roped in which at least means we could see something conclusive regarding Casement — truly now a Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel, will they, won’t they, saga for our times.
The Irish bid five years ago fell short of displaying a standard of infrastructure “that can cope with the demands of a Rugby World Cup”. Given that the last tournament was staged in Japan with sophisticated bullet trains that ensured an intrepid reporter could make an 1,100 mile round trip to see Dungannon native Pete Nelson turn out for Canada against Italy in a day, one can only imagine how seasoned attendees would have reacted to land on these shores to discover the public transport links that exist, or rather don’t exist, between proposed venues.
As someone who saw a World Cup game at Ravenhill a few months before he saw Ireland play at Lansdowne Road for a first time, I understand the allure of plonking global superstars into the middle of Belfast or Dublin and nurturing the seeds of sporting fandom.
Forgive me, though, for presuming that whichever fixtures would be sent our way would not have 11-year-olds here in 2028 seeing the football equivalents of 1999 George Gregan and John Eales.
With automatic qualification unlikely to be on offer for all five teams, the likes of Russia, Finland, Austria or the Ukraine pitching up in west Belfast would surely test the interest of the event junkies expected to snap up the tickets and you have to wonder whether there are better ways to deliver long-term impact.
Rugby’s bid for ’23 cost a combination of the IRFU and governments north and south €3.25m with the vagaries of such processes ensuring that, even if you start as favourites, a return is never guaranteed.
Instances like the wildly successful 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, or even the Giro d’Italia five years prior, have already shown something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago — we can bring the biggest sporting events to our doorstep.
Just because we can, though, doesn’t make it the best use of resources.
Besides, perhaps most curiously of all, who watched the disgraceful scenes outside of last summer’s Euro 2020 final at Wembley and thought that’s the star to which I want to hitch my wagon?