The Samoans should have beaten them last weekend; the South Africans did the week before. You may need a pocket calculator to keep track of the scores in this Saturday's Ireland v New Zealand test match.

Yet, even if Irish rugby struggles on the field, the tales of yesteryear and great old characters are undiminished.

A month or two back, Ireland heard the sad news that the great Moss Keane had passed on to that watering hole in the skies and the Elysian fields. Keane, one of the Munster men who toppled Graham Mourie's All Blacks in 1978 and toured New Zealand with the 1977 Lions, was renowned for jokes and a humorous interpretation of life.

Keane made his debut for Ireland in 1974, against France in Paris, receiving news of his call-up the previous Saturday just after a club match for Lansdowne. Celebrations at the news began soon after final whistle and continued long into the night.

It's said at 2am Keane staggered to the bar. "There's another pint for yer there, Mossie," said a voice.

The big man was having none of it. "No, I'm on my way home." And he disappeared into the night. A short time later, a Dublin gardai (policeman) spied a car making its slow but methodical way up a one-way street the wrong way. He waved it to a halt.

The window was slowly wound down and a famous face appeared. The gardai stepped back.

"Ah now Mr. Keane, we've heard you've been called for your first cap for Ireland, so I expect you've had a pint or two," said the officer. A blank expression crossed Big Mossie's face.

"A pint or two? Are yer feckin' mad? I've had 22 pints tonight and I'll trouble you to let me be off home."

The gardai exclaimed: "Ah Mr. Keane, I wish you hadn't told us that." But Mossie got away with it. He usually did.

As in Paris a week later, after his typically rumbustious debut for Ireland. Keane, not knowing French ways, asked Willie John McBride to keep an eye out for him. The finest French champagne was served at the after-match banquet - Big Mossie asked for a pint of Guinness. Then came vintage wines at the dinner - Keane sent most of them back.

By midnight, he knew one thing; he was hungry. All those delicate little bits at the banquet hadn't gone halfway to filling up Big Mossie.

So as Sunday morning arrived, a curious sight was to be seen somewhere near Pigalle, the Paris red-light district. Outside a shop, slumped on the ground, sat Moss Keane. Inside, stood Willie John McBride ordering sausages and chips.

Alas, it was all destined to end in disaster. The owner took so long to cook the food, Keane could wait no longer. Lurching inside and peering over the counter, he spied a sausage and seized it. He headed out of the shop ... completely unaware that the sausage was attached to another 50.

An irate owner, hurling insults in French as he ran after him, pursued Keane with McBride, in hot pursuit, attempting to play diplomatic peace maker.

Celebrations go hand in hand with Irish rugby. Usually, there's a win or loss to drink to, but it rarely matters which. Except in 1993, when England started the game in Dublin as 10-1 on favourites. Well, they'd won their previous six matches, including a 38-9 annihilation of the Irish the year before. So Ireland being Ireland, won 17-3 and Dublin went crazy.

Two hours after the whistle, a plush executive saloon car nosing its way through the city's clogged streets halted outside a pub. In the same moment, the pub door burst open and a young Irish fan staggered out.

Seeing the luxury car, he lurched up to the back door and tapped on the window. Inside, the owner interrupted his phone call and enquired politely "Can I help you?"

Yer man looked momentarily flummoxed. But, seizing the moment, he shot back "Yes, yer can. Dial 628 4197 and tell the wife we won't be home for three feckin' days." And with that he was gone.

Irish rugby comes and goes in terms of its health and prowess on the field. But off it, not a lot changes.