Only 1,500 fans to travel from Ireland for World Cup
IT WILL be a Rugby World Cup for die-hards and ex-pats.
Less than 1,500 Irish fans will follow the Irish squad when the World Cup kicks off in New Zealand on September 9.
Up to 10,000 Irish supporters will cheer on the team -- but most will be emigrants who live in New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia.
Coach Declan Kidney yesterday announced the 30-man squad for the trip, but most Irish-based fans are being put off by the 24-hour travel time, the cost of flights and accommodation.
However, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) is confident that between 5,000 and 10,000 ex-pats will bolster the support.
Such is the demand for tickets from the ex-pat community that sales for the Irish games is currently running at levels second only to hosts New Zealand.
While the number travelling from Ireland pales in comparison to the 5,000 who attended the 2003 World Cup in Australia, IRFU spokesman Karl Richardson is confident there will be plenty of green in the stands for World Cup 2011.
Irish tour operators are also anticipating that a huge ex-pat contingent will join the hundreds who have splashed out more than €4,000 for World Cup package tours.
Abbey Travel in Dublin has only booked about 50 packages, while Killester Travel has sold about 200, and Trevorbrennanrugbytours.com has secured bookings for 140 packages.
They all anticipate another 800 to 1,000 fans will travel from Ireland independently.
"It's a long way to go. Flights aren't cheap and accommodation isn't cheap," said Mark Pinsent of Trevor Brennan tours.
Although hotel prices have dropped from the whopping NZ$650 (€373) a night that was advertised in November 2009 for a two-star hotel in Wellington, they are still very expensive.
Last-minute interest in the tournament may encourage a few more die-hard fans to make the journey, but tour operators said they aren't anticipating a massive surge in bookings.
"Most people have already made up their minds about going," Mr Pinsent said.
The Irish squad: see Sport