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Leinster get ball rolling as rugby faithful flock to UK

WITH friends like these, who needs rivals?

Robert Behan from Dublin and Richard McQuitty from Belfast set aside their respective teams' wranglings in the name of sport for one of the biggest rugby weekends this year.

The pair were two of the 1,000-strong crowd of Leinster supporters who flocked to High Wycombe yesterday afternoon for the first of three crunch matches for Irish provincial sides.

Ulster will play Saracens in Twickenham tonight and tomorrow Munster face Harlequins at the Stoop in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

Leinster played Wasps in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final last night, with five tries ensuring a comprehensive 48-28 victory for Joe Schmidt's side.

Well over 12,000 people are expected to travel to the UK over the weekend to watch the three matches.

Robert and Richard met watching rugby while both were working in Cambridge.

"I have come to this match today and he is going to the Ulster one tomorrow," Richard said.

An estimated 600 fans travelled from Ireland to attend last night's game, with another 400 fans coming from London and the surrounding areas to cheer on the Blues.

Amongst them were brothers Christy and Kevin O'Brien, originally from Castledermot in Co Kildare.

On everyone's lips was whether this season would be the last for former Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll who is widely anticipated to be near retirement. "I hope O'Driscoll will make another one," Christy said.

Meanwhile, Munster Rugby Supporters Club secretary Ian Buckley revealed that two die-hard supporters decided to travel 800km by bike and ferry in order to get to the province's crunch quarter-final.

Mr Buckley said he was "sworn to secrecy" about their identity "in case they don't make it". "I have heard of motorbikes and yachts and helicopters, but cycling is a first," he said. "The message to all those travelling is 'Be red, be loud, be proud!'"

Irish Independent