Irish raise the roof as Maple Leafs are crushed
Millennium Stadium a sea of green as Rugby World Cup odyssey begins
Irish rugby fans nearly blew the roof off the iconic Millennium Stadium yesterday as our Rugby World Cup odyssey got underway in fine style.
The Welsh capital turned green for the day for the first World Cup game to be held in Cardiff and jubilant Irish fans were last night celebrating a 50-7 win.
Sunshine and a party mood helped bring a carnival and slightly boozy atmosphere to the Ireland v Canada clash.
And even Paul O'Connell spending time in the sin bin failed to quell the noise of a sell-out crowd, that must have been 90pc Irish.
"It's an amazing turnout and amazing weather, too," said Anna and Emily Tully whose family is originally from Sutton, Co Dublin. "It reminds us of St Patrick's Day."
The saint himself even made an appearance - two of them, in fact, parting the sea of green on St Mary Street next to the stadium.
"There was seven of us originally, we have lost five saints," said one of the beatific duo, real names Brean Kane and Francis McNally from Drumlish, Co Longford.
The sunny weather matched the mood. Victoria McAllister from Derry was anticipating a win. "I reckon it will be 35-3," she said, before hastily adding: "to Ireland of course." She underestimated the Irish lads. They notched up 50 points and secured the bonus points. Canada scored a late try.
Irish fans had been arriving from midweek, a slow trickle of tricolours and shamrocks turning into a torrent as Friday evening came and the bars bounced to amped-up Irish music (Cardiff clearly feels it has got to cater to the visitors' tastes, and only U2 and the Pogues turned up to 11 will do, obviously).
Apart from the rugby, the main talking point was the eye-watering exchange rate and the cost of hotel accommodation with some reportedly charging as much as €2,000 a night. "We wouldn't be here, only I have got a sister that lives in the city," said Patricia Culkin from Sligo. She'd brought three generations over from Sligo including her grandsons Sean (5) and Darragh (3).
"They won't be going to the match though," she confided. "They're a bit young."
Fergal Tuohy and his teenage son James were doing a few laps outside the Millennium Stadium, flicking a rugby ball back and forth. Keen Connacht fans from Dunmore, Co Galway, they were clearly expecting a call-up to the squad after their idol Robbie Henshaw pulled up injured.
The special fanzone set up next to the stadium as awash with colour and drenched in sunshine as kick-off approached.
For once the stadium was more green than red, as Ireland turned the Millennium into home territory and vastly outnumbered the Canadian supporters. There were a few brave souls who'd made the journey to cheer the Canucks, including Tim Riley who was ensconced outside a pub with a large group of green shirts.
"I got off the plane, there was a huge group of Irish. I just melded in," he said, whispering: "I don't think they've noticed I'm Canadian yet."