French rugby has always been admired for its artistry. The likes of Serge Blanco, Yannick Jauzion, and Phillipe Sella could glide across the pitch, with flair and poise that the French were known for that could upset anyone.
Up until the last World Cup, Ireland's record against France was pathetic. Ireland had only won four times since 1983 in a span that took in 33 games. Brian O'Driscoll's famous hat-trick in 2000 broke a drought of 17 years, and it's fair to say that a lot of the golden generation had their toughest games against the majestic French.
So when Stephen Ferris was asked who was the toughest French player he's ever faced he has a lot of players to choose from. Would it be Vincent Clerc - scorer of the winning try in Croke Park's first ever rugby game, and a constant nuisance to the Irish? Maybe it would be the majestic Freddie Michalak - who managed to ruin Ireland's World Cups in both 2003 and 2007. Maybe it would be Theirry Dusautoir, Serge Betsen or Imanol Harinordoquoy who can be counted among France's best back-rows ever.
Actually no, Ferris has gone with someone very different:
It was hard going against the French in every match I played against them. They had a lot of skillful players, but the best was probably Sebastian Chabal when he was in his prime. What an athlete.
I can't say I was expecting that. The shaggy haired Chabal, affectionally known as 'the caveman' was a monster in the loose with ball in hand, and could smash opposing players in the tackle. That would be the exact physical challenge that Ferris would have loved.
Ferris had several thoughts about Ireland's campaign so far, with a special focus on the pool decider with France when he spoke to Ladbrokes:
1. What was your take on the Italy game, and how much do we need to step it up against France?
SF- All we needed to do was get over the line against Italy. It was a job well done. The performance needs to improve against France or else we will be facing the All Blacks in the quarter-final.
2. Paddy Jackson seems a bit of craic - who was your camp 'clown'?
SF- Donncha O'Callaghan was our team clown. Always having the craic and making everyone laugh. He's famous for his bullying of the kit man Rala who retires after this World Cup.
3. A lot is made of Rala in the Irish camp and he is obviously a very valued figure. How was it to have him in the camp when you were involved?
SF- He was always someone who would listen to you. A man who respected every player who wore the green shirt of Ireland. He will be sadly missed in the team room but I wish him well in his retirement. He deserves it.
4. Is there a case to be made for starting Henry for his ground-work ability and bringing on the explosive SOB for impact?
SF- There is a case of course. But Sean O'Brien is a great player and big players always rise to the top when it matters. He will play against France.
5. Best was outstanding versus Italy, who else stood out for you?
SF- Paul O'Connell was very busy around the pitch. It was great to see the big man leading from the front. I thought Hendo was his physical self but think there is more to come from him. I am expecting a lot of good individual performances this weekend.
6. Has your buddy Tommy done enough to nail down a place?
SF- Tommy has never let Ulster, Ireland or the Lions down when it matters. He is a big game player and I would have him on my team sheet. Has he done enough? We shall see on Saturday.
7. Finally, what was the craic at the Italy match?
SF- atmosphere was amazing and the amount of fans that were there to support Ireland was great. More of the same needed this weekend to overcome this powerful French side.
Ladbrokes have a few decent offers for Ireland's decider with France on Sunday.
Ireland to win by 10 points or more - Was 9/4 Now 3/1
Money back if Ireland score first
We'll refund all losing first and anytime tryscorers
See Also: Only Stephen Ferris Is Brave Enough To Reveal What Paul O'Connell Is Terrified Of
Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE