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Rugby

19th May 2021

Philippe Saint-André on special day he played with “amazing” Simon Geoghegan

Patrick McCarry

Simon Geoghegan

“To be honest, it was the first time that the Irish supporters were behind me!”

Philippe Saint-André is the last captain to lead a touring team to a Test Series victory over New Zealand. That rare feat was achieved in 1994, the year he got to tick another box by playing with an “amazing” Irish winger named Simon Geoghegan.

If you are looking back through the records on Geoghegan, his statistics will not blow you away. 11 Test tries in 37 Ireland appearances between 1991 and 1996. He only played six years of international rugby and did not make the 1993 British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand.

To anyone that watched Geoghegan play for Ireland, though, he was a beacon of hope. A deliverer of some scintillating tries and magic moments. He twice did for England and left the best of France, Wales and Australia with twisted blood.

Until Keith Wood came along, in 1994, the only Irish players that would lift you from your seats were Nick Popplewell and Simon Geoghegan. It was a bleak decade, littered with wooden spoons and nadirs than out-did past nadirs, but Geoghegan always gave you hope.

Saint-André is talking to us to help promote The Big Rugby Run, which is taking place (virtually) on Saturday, May 22 and will raise money for the Tackle Your Feelings initiatives in the rugby community. His team, Montpellier, are playing in the Challenge Cup on Friday, but he is happy to take time out from preparations to lend his support to the cause.

Reminded of his seven wins fro seven games record against Ireland, the former France winger and (later) head coach lights up when asked if there were ever moments when we pushed Les Bleus close. Smiling, he responds:

“For me, I always remember because I was playing against one winger who was amazing. It was Simon Geoghegan.

“To be fair, he was unlucky not to be in one great generation of Ireland because every time he had the ball, he was amazing and a match-winner. But, unfortunately, he didn’t have too much of the ball against us because us, as a French team, we were very, very strong.

“I have so many memories as I played with the Baa Baas in Ireland, when we beat South Africa. It was in Dublin, at Lansdowne Road, and think there were a lot of Irish players [in the team].

“But when I was a coach, I drew two times against Ireland but I never won against them. As a player, yes, we beat them seven times but my record in coaching is very, very poor!”

Told that Wood, Popplewell and Geoghegan were Irish rugby fans’ three shining lights in a bleak decade, Saint-André harks back to that Barbarians game against a Springboks side that would go on to win the 1995 World Cup.

“Yes, I played with those guys,” he says. “South Africa was so strong and, if I remember, they had beat England, Wales, Scotland and France [that year]. I think because Ireland was not strong, at this moment, they decided not to play Ireland but the Baa Baas.

“Simon Geoghegan was one wing and I was the other wing. The front row was the Irish front row.

“We beat South Africa and, to be honest, it was the first time that the Irish supporters were behind me! I scored a try and they were cheering me. And we beat South Africa. It was the only game that they lost on that tour.”

On that tour, the Boks played 13 games and won 11. They won their two official ‘Test’ matches against Scotland and Wales, but were beaten in a midweek game by Scotland ‘A’. Earlier that year, they had defeated England in Pretoria but split the series 1-1.

That day in Dublin (video below), the Baa Baas went 5-0 and then 15-10 behind, but went on to win 23-15.

Saint-André bagged the first try, that day, against a South African XV that contained 13 of the 15 men that would start in the World Cup final triumph.

The Boks got back ahead but, early in the second half, Geoghegan’s support line saw him dive over to level the scores. Jon Callard’s conversion made it 17-15 and the Baa Baas never looked back.

“The most popular try of the day,” declared former England captain Bill Beaumount, on co-comms. “The golden boy of Irish rugby.”

That he was, and Saint-André considers himself fortunate to have got the chance to play alongside him.

Former French International Rugby captain and head coach, PSA Academies Chairman and current Montpellier head coach Philippe Saint-André pictured ahead of the #TheBigRugbyRun 2021. The run will take place virtually on May 22nd 2021 with the support of Rugby Players Ireland (RPI) and PSA Academies. The funds raised will go towards Tackle Your Feelings initiatives for the rugby community, a mental health and well-being programme run by RRI and Zurich Ireland with the support of the Zurich Foundation. People can register a team for #TheBigRugbyRun 2021 now via www.thebigrugbyrun.com

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