After the longest week, Ireland embark on the next stage of the Rugby World Cup tomorrow amid a mass exodus of supporters to Cardiff.
Argentina await in the Millennium Stadium tomorrow in the quarter-final, and for anyone who dares look past that encounter, a possible semi-final against Australia or Scotland.
There are so many moving parts that it’s perhaps unwise to think too far into the future, particularly after last weekend’s victory over the French — one that came at a cost.
Inspirational captain Paul O’Connell bowed out with the kind of hamstring injury that would atomise any resolve left in the rest of us. Then there was the injury to Peter O’Mahony and the subsequent one-match ban for Sean O’Brien.
It means a different first 15 for the knockout game against the Argentinians, traditionally formidable foes for the men in green and battle-hardened in recent years due to an increased number of games against southern hemisphere rivals Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
There is good news though. Johnny Sexton is back and will start, and the galvanising effect of ‘doing it for Paulie’ cannot be estimated. That, and the tens of thousands of fans heeding Ireland’s call and heading for Cardiff by any means possible.
One phenomenon in this World Cup has been the number of Irish supporters taking the National Lampoons/camper van option, while Aer Lingus has laid on 1,000 extra seats ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s game.
Flights to Cardiff and nearby Bristol from Ireland have been full to bursting in recent weeks and this weekend is no different, and the already astronomical cost of accommodation in the Welsh capital has heightened still further. Last night a double room in one hotel 10km from the city centre was on offer for a cool €2,023.
Whether it’s the penthouse or the park bench, it doesn’t matter — all eyes are trained on tomorrow afternoon.
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