Thursday 17 October 2019

Irish display wins hearts and minds both on and off the pitch

  

Jacob Stockdale goes on the attack against Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale goes on the attack against Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Gareth Morgan in Yokohama

The half-time karaoke was in full swing with nearly 70,000 belting out a hearty rendition of 'Sweet Caroline'. As the PA cut out and the crowd went a capella, the language barrier fell away completely.

Sing when you're winning. Sing when you're losing. Sing if you're among the thousands of Japanese who came out to see the number one ranked team in the world. It's World Cup time, might as well enjoy ourselves.

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Not that the Scottish really have much to enjoy, or sing about. They may have been practising with shampoo-soaked rugby balls but the Irish team blew away this shower with a show of wet-weather rugby power.

Scotland got a hard lesson on a soft day. A marker was laid down in the Yokohama drizzle. Ireland got the hard graft done early, before the heavens opened.

The support arrived in good time, far outnumbering the Scots, and enjoyed pints in the sunshine at the fanzone, or cold cans of obscure Japanese beer. The mood was relaxed, and party-like. Even the policemen couldn't stop smiling.

At teatime the long wait for RWC2019 action was finally over and once on the pitch, Ireland kept the scoreboard ticking like a metronome.

This team seem to be a real draw for Japanese fans in this tournament and every score was loudly cheered. Among the youngest present to voice his support was nine-month-old Donal Grace, gamely carried in a sling by father Mícheál from Oola in Limerick.

Meanwhile, the Kavanaghs - Conor, Ben, and Chloe - did not have too far to travel as they live in Hong Kong, although the family hails from Kilternan.

"Nerve-wracking game despite the score," said Conor (16), while Ben (14) reckoned Ireland's "phenomenal" defence made the difference.

"The game got more and more intense each second, I'm just so glad we won," added Chloe, age 11.

The viewing experience was dampened by the rain of course, especially in the second half when it hampered ambition and expression both on and off the pitch. But the stadium experience as a whole was incredible - from handy cup holders in the seats to the staff organising the orderly queues for the toilets. The Aviva could truly learn something here.

At full time, stewards delightedly queued up to high-five the supporters on the way out of the stadium in an amazing display of Japanese hospitality and rugby camaraderie.

In the bowels of the stadium, as the rain lashed down outside, the party was kicking off.

Happily toasting victory were Claire Gunning, Claire O'Brien, Colette O'Donohue from Kilkenny, Cork and Borrisokane, Co Tipperary.

"Great win by the Irish," said Claire. "Massive intensity from the offset put the result in no doubt after 10 minutes. Bring on Japan."

Ireland left the field having won over a few hearts and minds, not just with their power and purpose. As Tricolours fluttered in the evening breeze, the team stood as one before the east stand, and bowed in unison. It was a silent gesture that again smashed through the language barrier.

Sonkei. Respect.

Irish Independent

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