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Legend Lomu laps up awesome atmosphere in rugby-mad city

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Jonah Lomu with Peter Myres (6), from Dooradoyle, as he switches on Limerick’s Christmas lights

Jonah Lomu with Peter Myres (6), from Dooradoyle, as he switches on Limerick’s Christmas lights

Limerick local Eleanor Fitzgerald (left) and Olivia Campbell from
Wellington, New Zealand, who now works in the Planning Department of City Hall in Limerick, show their true colours in the build-up to
tonight's big match.

Limerick local Eleanor Fitzgerald (left) and Olivia Campbell from Wellington, New Zealand, who now works in the Planning Department of City Hall in Limerick, show their true colours in the build-up to tonight's big match.

All Black Rodney So'oialo trains with one of the the prize winners of a sports competition at Thomond Park yesterday

All Black Rodney So'oialo trains with one of the the prize winners of a sports competition at Thomond Park yesterday

The All Blacks meet the cast of 'Alone It Stands' (red jerseys) at Thomond Park.

The All Blacks meet the cast of 'Alone It Stands' (red jerseys) at Thomond Park.

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Jonah Lomu with Peter Myres (6), from Dooradoyle, as he switches on Limerick’s Christmas lights

NEW Zealand legend Jonah Lomu switched on Limerick's Christmas lights last night and paid tribute to his fellow rugby player Shane Geoghegan who was murdered in the city last week.

Lomu is in Limerick for tonight's eagerly awaited clash between Munster and the All Blacks to mark the official opening of the redeveloped Thomond Park.

Almost exactly 30 years after they left Thomond Park defeated, the All Blacks return to action in Limerick tonight in a bid to restore pride before 26,000 people.

Speaking of his visit to Limerick, Jonah said it was "awesome" to be in the rugby-mad city. He also revealed that he and his pregnant wife, Nadine were presented with a surprise present of a baby Munster jersey when they arrived in Limerick.

Reception

The All Blacks arrived in Limerick on Sunday and were treated to a performance of 'Alone it Stands', the famous play on Munster's 1978 success over New Zealand, in LIT's Millennium Theatre. This morning they will receive a civic reception from Limerick City Council.

Musicians, entertainers and sports stars including Bono, Tommy Tiernan, Christy Moore, Michael Flatley and Padraig Harrington are all expected to attend tonight's game.

Weather permitting, the match ball will be airlifted into the ground by the Air Corps.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and IRFU president, John Lyons will perform the official opening where an emotional minute's silence will be held just before kick off to honour Shane Geoghegan.

Gardai in the city are urging all supporters to arrive in Limerick early, park in the city centre and walk to the stadium.

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At a Magner's league fixture which attracted the first major attendance last month, thousands of supporters missed the game or suffered long delays due to traffic tailbacks.

This evening, there is a special shuttle bus service operating from Henry Street -- beside Dunnes Stores -- directly to Thomond Park Stadium from 5pm to 7pm. The ground is open from 5pm and the game kicks off at 7.30pm. The match is being broadcast live on RTE2.

The local economy is set to benefit to the tune of €6m from tonight's match.

Up to 4,000 beds in the city's hotels and bed and breakfasts have been completely booked out months in advance.

One Munster fan, Donal Blackwell from Cappamore, Co Limerick has journeyed back from New Zealand, where he is working, for tonight's game.

President of Limerick Chamber of Commerce, Sean Lally said the game was "absolutely fantastic" for the city.

"People are flying in from as far away as Moscow and New York for this. There are a few thousand supporters from New Zealand in the city and we are receiving fantastic feedback from everyone. They are certainly enjoying themselves," Mr Lally said.

"There are up to 2,500 hotel beds in the city and they are all gone, along with 1,500 bed and breakfast spaces. People are staying as far as out as Ennis for the match," he added.


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