Cardiff. The very mention of the city’s name has long been enough to bring a broad smile to the faces of Irish rugby fans.
For years, the national team couldn’t lose here . Munster and Leinster went on to win Heineken Cups in the Welsh capital, and Declan Kidney’s Ireland claimed a Grand Slam here in 2009. Great times, great craic, great city.
We’ll think differently about the place now that Ireland’s World Cup hopes, raised higher than ever before on the back of successive Six Nations titles, ended with yesterday’s 43-20 defeat to Argentina in the Millennium Stadium.
Ireland have played in the Rugby World Cup eight times now, and a semi-final berth continues to elude them. Argentina, their nemesis in 1999 and again in 2007, returned to haunt them here. Though full value for their win, the Pumas were helped by Ireland’s injury woes.
Time and again, the TV director cut to shots of Ireland’s wounded heroes in the stand. Paul O’Connell, his leg in a brace, studied a computer tablet for pointers and pumped his fist when Luke Fitzgerald scored the first of his two tries which would bring an early 17-0 deficit back to 23-20.
The comeback was stirring, but Argentina pulled away again in the last quarter after Ireland failed to execute properly, and Ian Madigan, in as the team’s playmaker in the absence of Johnny Sexton, sent a kick to equalise just wide.
Small margins, huge consequences.
“The character shown to be 23-20 down was fantastic,” said Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. “And to have a kick shave the upright for 23-all, [that] would have been a huge boost to a team maybe lacking experience and a few cool heads.”
It was, all in all, a confusing bedlam of a weekend by the banks of the Taff, what with Irish, Argentinian, New Zealand, French, and Welsh fans congealing into an international hotpot liberally sprinkled with alcohol and bonhomie.
Argentinians drank pints of Guinness, Irish fans sang ‘Olé’, and ‘The Fields of Athenry’ rang out around the Millennium Stadium on Saturday as the All Blacks ran riot against Les Bleus, whose red jerseys matched their faces after a 49-point defeat.
But, like Ireland’s, Cardiff’s part in the party is over now.
The Rugby World Cup moves lock, stock, and beer barrel on to London, where the four southern hemisphere giants will slug it out. England may have been evicted from their own house in the pool stages, but none of their neighbours are laughing now.
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