Monday 5 December 2016

Rugby fans left to rue a missed opportunity to slay Welsh dragon

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

Irish fans before the match. Photo: PA
Irish fans before the match. Photo: PA
Rugby fan Sofia Athanasiou from South Wales before the match at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Melanie hunter, from Antrim. Photo: Damien Eagers
Maria Flynn from Mayo and Mairead Crowley from Cork. Photo: Tony Gavin

A pumped-up Ireland confronted a twin-track challenge as they fought furiously to slay the Welsh dragon on home soil.

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The Irish team roared on to the green sward of the Aviva, determined from the get-go they would face down their opponents.

The excitement surrounding this confrontation reached fever pitch, as a riot of noise and colour engulfed the stadium.

It was clear from the outset there was huge pressure on Joe Schmidt's team - which had some notable newbies on board.

For as well as trying to do down Wales, this side was also charged with reigniting the fervour of Irish rugby.

It has been in a kind of meltdown since that heartbreaking World Cup defeat to the Argentinians.

Long before kick-off, there was a throbbing sense of expectancy.

Pre-match confidence among the Welsh fans was proudly on display, with some singing in celebration of a victory not yet achieved.

Festooned in red, they were clearly more cock-a-hoop than many of those backing the home side.

"This is going to be a big day for Wales - we're gonna win this one,'' enthused Dai Thomas from Cardiff.

Peter O'Connell, from Drumcondra in north Dublin, hoped the rugby gods would save Ireland from a possible mauling, maintaining we had an under-strength team.

Peter is now living in Wales with his Welsh wife, Amy, who was convinced Wales would come out on top.

"A lot depends on your talisman, Johnny Sexton - however, he's not been at his best of late,'' she said.

Inside the stadium, fireworks erupted around the ground, in perfectly synergy with the sense of occasion felt by both sets of fans.

South African-born CJ Stander struck a patriotic note with the crowd as he passionately sang 'Amhrán na bhFiann'.

Jamie Heaslip, in his eagerness to put it up to the Welsh, broke away from his teammates seconds before the end of a soaring rendition of 'Ireland's Call'.

Stripping off his tracksuit top, he ran purposefully to the other end of the pitch.

Once the battle began, Irish ferocity in the tackle paid off with two sweet penalties from Sexton.

And there was an audible release of pent-up emotion from the Irish contingent following Conor Murray's try in the 26th minute.

This was a sporting set-to Irish fans knew we desperately needed to win.

The green army were in full voice, roaring in union with the ebb and flow of a pulsating game.

Irish players repeatedly put bodies on the line to try to halt the Welsh onslaught - with Conor Murray, Sexton and Stander, outstanding.

Some dinky runs made by Simon Zebo had Tricolours waving in salute.

But as the clock ticked down, the mood of the Irish crowd turned decidedly sombre.

A share of the spoils was not in the script, and pushes that elusive three-in-a-row Six Nations title a bit further out of reach.

As the fans trooped out of the stadium, the gathering gloom seemed to suggest this was a missed opportunity.

Irish Independent

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