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Loss of referee control at the heart of 2007's 'Battle of Bayonne' -- O'Driscoll

Brian O’Driscoll appealed to Wayne Barnes to restore calm in an infamously unruly World Cup warm-up.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IT WAS A match that became the hallmark of Ireland’s woeful 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign.

A pre-tournament ‘friendly’ (in the loosest understanding of the term) against a proud regional club in a nation that sees you as their primary rivals in Pool D.

Bayonne v Ireland is a fixture that should not have happened three months before a World Cup – never mind three weeks. However, on 16 August 2007 the game kicked off and the doubts swirling round players’ heads were recounted in Brian O’Driscoll’s autobiography, The Test.

“There’s a small part of us that wonders if it’s a good idea taking on a French club side,” says O’Driscoll, “but as players we can only put our faith in those who have planned it and our trust in the referee.”

That referee was a 28-year-old Wayne Barnes and as Ireland deal with a fired-up club “more interested in kicking the shit out of us than putting points on the scoreboard,” O’Driscoll, as captain, is appealing to Barnes to put some order in the game.

“I’m in his ear all the time about what’s going on off the ball: he doesn’t want to hear me.

“I start losing my cool as the cynical stuff continues; he warns Paulie to keep me in check.

“An hour into it, I’ve had more than enough. I tell him my players are getting gouged, and if he doesn’t do something about it, I’m taking them off the pitch.

“Then it really kicks off.

Source: bmcc123/YouTube

“I’m trying to break up a bit of argy-bargy when one of their subs smacks me bang on the cheekbone with a cheap shot from a swinging right arm I don’t even see until it puts me on the deck.”

The punch from lock Mikaera Tewhata left the Ireland captain with a fractured sinus, but he is desperate to fast-track his recovery to build up some much-needed match fitness for a World Cup campaign that fizzles out with defeats to France and Argentina after a near miss against Georgia.

Gary O'Driscoll and Cameron Steele with Brian O'Driscoll 16/8/2007 Gary O'Driscoll and Cameron Steele guide Brian O'Driscoll to the sideline in Bayonne. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For O’Driscoll, there is no room for any more extensive autopsies of 2007, because they have all been read before:

“The tale of woe gets dragged out endlessly in the media and becomes an official report, then a chapter in people’s books. Between them all, the details don’t differ too much and nobody comes up with anything new, because there’s really nothing there, other than the story of an undercooked squad underperforming on a huge scale.”

Brian O’Driscoll’s autobiography The Test is available to buy from today.

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Sean Farrell

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