Rugby stars hoping to outclass Italians
Fans 'quietly confident' as wags fly out to support team
IRELAND's rugby WAGs will arrive in New Zealand this evening just in time to cheer on their team in tomorrow's do-or-die clash against Italy.
It has been almost a month since many of the wives and girlfriends last saw their partners but tonight they'll be giving their nearest and dearest space to concentrate on the crucial match.
Among the glamour squad winging its way to the other side of the world are actress Amy Huberman, wife of captain Brian O'Driscoll, and model Aoife Cogan, who is engaged to Gordon D'Arcy.
Speaking before she boarded a flight from Dublin on Thursday, Amy said it would take almost 48 hours before they arrived in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, where the Ireland team play the Azzurri.
"We're all really excited. We want to leave the guys alone and let them enjoy it, so we'll do something in the meantime," she said.
Joining them will be hundreds of Irish fans who have taken up camp in Dunedin.
Wexford couple Jim Collins and Marguerite Ahearne have been following the team on their World Cup campaign, staying in the same hotels as the players. "Our boys have done well. We're proud of them," said Marguerite.
Jim explained that part of being an Irish fan is thinking of yourself as the 16th man.
"If you don't yell your head off, you're not doing your bit for the team," he said.
He says he knows Italy won't be a pushover but he admits to feeling "quietly confident" that things will go Ireland's way.
Also in Dunedin, Grace Campbell and Paul McKay, who emigrated from Ireland to New Zealand, were looking forward to the match. "The victory over Australia has really made the competition exciting," said Grace.
Sporting fans in Dunedin will be in for a treat as, just a few hours before the professionals line out, two amateur teams will face off for the city's traditional nude rugby game. Tomorrow, a naked New Zealand team will compete against a mixed Irish and Italian side.
Meanwhile, rugby clubs around Ireland will be opening their doors early tomorrow for members to watch the match. Most pubs, though, will be closed for the 8.30am kick-off. Among the few that will be open for tea, coffee and breakfast is The 51 Bar, deep in rugby territory on Dublin's Haddington Road.
Manager PJ Kelly said that a few locals had asked him to open.
And while all eyes will be on New Zealand, the Irish national wheelchair rugby team will be preparing for an equally bruising tournament when the European Championship begins in Switzerland tomorrow.
Speaking before he left Ireland yesterday, player Alan Lynch (28), from Tallinstown, Co Louth, said: "We may play in wheelchairs, but once the whistle goes it's no-holds-barred stuff. We play as hard as we can and it's a full contact sport."
The Irish team will take on the home side in their opening match tomorrow.