A strange occasion. The very sight of a rugby ball being thrown and kicked around a stadium which has rocked to Usain Bolt and Mo Farah in days past, and one which will etch out a new identity as the home of West Ham United, took time to sink in.
The crowd added to the sense of disclocation.
With all the talk of this being a walk in Olympic Park for Ireland, it seemed as if complacency had set in among what was once again another magnificent volume of Irish support.
Volume in numbers, that was. The noise levels were negligible.
Stephen Rogers gets the views of the Ireland fans after their victory over Italy in the RWC pool match at the Olympic Stadium. Video by Dan Linehan
This was the very definition of sport as consumer product. The sun shone, the cafes and bars of the nearby Westfields Shopping Centre – Europe’s largest when it was built – were overflowing with revellers, but the main dish was served cold.
“The preparation was good,” said the hooker Rory Best who was among Ireland’s better performers on the evening. “Italy started off well, but the lack of intensity for me was more just a constant throughout the game.
“At times we showed it and then eased back off again. I don’t think we expect that to happen.
“It’s hard looking back at it, but it kind of felt like they were waiting for someone to break free rather than grab it by the scruff of the neck ourselves.”
A week of introspection awaits, and rightly so, but it would be remiss to ignore or dilute the significance of Italy’s part in Ireland’s difficulties. Jacques Brunel’s side saved their best performance for Ireland.
“They played well,” said Sean O’Brien who struggled to impose himself at the breakdown. “Certain things obviously didn’t go our way, but we didn’t help ourselves at times. Little offloads didn’t come off for us and we were a bit sloppy in some of our play.
“We played in our own half a little bit too much at times as well. We ground it out. I don’t think we were under much stress. It wasn’t an ideal performance from us, but we can move on and kick into next week.”
Ah, yes, the French.
Like Italy, ‘Les Bleus’ haven’t been all that so far in this tournament, and they haven’t beaten Ireland since the last World Cup, but Best believes yesterday may well be the “reality check” required before Joe Schmidt’s side tune into another Latin frequency.
“There’s a lot of players that are used to playing big games - and big games back-to-back. For us, it’ll be ‘let’s learn the lessons from this and make sure we’re better next week’. We’ve a seven-day turnaround to ramp things up and get things ready.
“We talked about this (Italy) game being the start of a big build-up and the World Cup really starts now. We’ve got past this game, it’s important we improve over the next two weeks if we want to do anything.”
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