Army of Irish fans glad to avoid potential banana skin with Cup bid up and running
Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30
They came, they saw, they conquered. It wasn't Rome - but the sunshine and carnival atmosphere made it feel like a fiesta in a Mediterranean city. The streets around the Millennium stadium were one giant, sun-drenched scrum.
Then the green and red sea parted and a lone figure staggered through, his mitre a little skewiff and his robes somewhat bedraggled. Sure wasn't it only St Patrick himself, come to bless the Irish fans who had gathered here in such impressive force?
No, it wasn't - it was Francis McNally from Drumlish in Longford, and he was looking for his fellow saints.
"There was seven of us originally," he confided. "One's phone has gone dead and one of the others has the tickets. We really need to get it together before kick-off."
But then - a vision! Across St Mary Street beneath the castle, a small conclave was spotted. They had surrounded a bemused auld fella in his seventies, who was telling anyone who would stop and listen: "When I came into town this morning, I couldn't walk! I was blind! Now I am cured. Also, and this is the biggest miracle of all...I was Welsh...but now I am Irish."
It was that sort of weekend. A gathering of the tribes to worship at the great altar of rugby. There were the Irish Irish, of course, flown over for the weekend. There were the British Irish in their droves - complete with horror stories of packed trains from London and having to cram people onto the luggage racks.
And there were Those Who Wanted to Be Irish.
"It's an amazing turnout and amazing weather too," said Anna and Emily Tully who were among the huge diaspora contingent - their family is originally from Sutton, Co Dublin. "It reminds us of St Patrick's Day."
The weather was certainly heaven-sent. The drizzly conditions of recent days stopped and the clouds parted for glorious sunshine, perfect for an impromptu street party.
The surrounds of Glamorgan County Cricket Club were full of camper vans, and temporary neighbours got acquainted. And at times it seemed that the scoreline would be more suited to an innings on the wickets at the famous cricket ground.
Despite the heat, the stadium roof was again kept closed and the atmosphere inside became a boiling cauldron. Of the impressive 68,000-strong crowd, it seemed at least 60,000 were Irish.
Once Sean O'Brien rumbled over, the green machine went through the gears and soon Johnny Sexton was cross-kicking in his own 22 or making an arcing break, leading to a try.
"Rubbish, get him off," roared one wag as the conversion went awry. But few dared to speak ill of the man-of-the-match, as the bonus point was secured before half-time. Dave Kearney is normally nicknamed "Dreamboat" but he more resembled a torpedo as he homed in on the line for the important fourth try.
But while the first half was sound-tracked with 'The Fields of Athenry', in the second the Mexican Wave got more air time and Ireland grinded the gears before finally finishing with a flourish.
The TMO - already set to be a scourge of this World Cup - got roundly booed when he denied Canada a try and also refused Ireland's late scoring chance.
But still, the stadium rang out to happy cheers of "Olé, olé, olé, olé" as the game ended. The songs continued - down the stairs, through the turnstiles and back out into the sunshine.
Around the same time, Japan was crossing for the winning try against the Spingboks. It was that sort of weekend, alright. One of visions and miracles, and the sturdy rugby applecart being carelessly overturned. But as thoughts turn to the matches to come, the Irish crowd was glad to have side-stepped one potential banana skin.