Sunday 17 December 2017

Red carpet rolled out for rivals

5,500 English fans beat path to Lansdowne

Edel O'Connell

PRESIDENT Mary McAleese will this evening come face-to-face with the English rugby star who broke with protocol and forced her off the red carpet on his last visit to Lansdowne Road.

But it is clear that Martin Johnson, who was captain of England in 2003 and is coach of the side now, has the full support of his side's fans -- even if they were understandably reticent about expressing it in Dublin yesterday.

Thousands of England fans touched down ahead of what they hope would be a Grand Slam victory this evening, repeating the achievement on that infamous day eight years ago.

Fans of the 'Sweet Chariot' were confident that another significant milestone would be reached as they soaked up the sun and a few pints in Temple Bar yesterday.

"We hope you enjoyed your victory in the cricket as it is the only game you are going to beat us at this year," one joked. Julian Bottomley and John Cooper from Derbyshire said they were confident of an English win.


"The atmosphere has changed since the new Aviva Stadium went up, all that history is gone. Once they start losing there, they will keep losing," said Mr Cooper.

Edna Rutledge, originally from Carrick-on-Shannon and now living in Cornwall, said the Martin Johnson episode was all water under the bridge.

"All throughout the Troubles the English rugby team were really the only UK team that continued to come to Ireland, so I don't think we should really put too much emphasis on what happened with Martin Johnson. It's just sport, it is not about politics," she said.

Opinion was largely positive among the English fans when asked about the visit of Queen Elizabeth here in May.

"I think it is progress, it's definitely a step in the right direction," said Chris Dixon from London.

The IRFU says in the region of 5,500 tickets have been allocated to the English fans -- all of which have been snapped up, with touts likely to be doing a brisk trade for Ireland's last hope of redemption in a disappointing Six Nations campaign.

What would they give for a young Hugo MacNeill at full back?

Businessman Leslie Buckley yesterday hosted Haven's annual '6 Nations Rugby Luncheon' in the Four Seasons Hotel, raising €35,000 to continue the charity's work in Haiti.

Mr MacNeill, a former star on the Irish and Lions teams, was honoured at the event for his contribution to Irish rugby and charity.

Five signed rugby jerseys, one from each province, and one Ireland jersey were auctioned at the event raising €1,500.

Haven was founded by Mr Buckley and his wife Carmel in late 2008 and builds houses and brings relief to Haiti.

Irish Independent

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