Phew… that was the general consensus at the end of a too-close for comfort match which put Ireland in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup once more.
Amid the celebratory singing and chanting as the fans poured out of London’s Olympic Stadium last night, there were more than a few who were aware Ireland cannot play like that next week.
“At least we won, but it was definitely not a fantastic performance,” said Danny Glavin from Tralee. “It just will not do against France. They will have to pick it up.”
His fellow Tralee man, Noel O’Regan agreed: “I am worried about seven days’ time. At least we have qualified now. It’s official. And it was lovely to see Earls get the record [number of tries for an Irishman in a World Cup].”
Shane McGinn from Dublin was a bit more optimistic. He said: “The match was a bit of a challenge. But we got the result and a win’s a win. I think our prospects for France are still good. They don’t look to positive. We can back from this and go out and win it.”
The day had begun with a carnival atmosphere thanks, not least, to the quality of the venue as well as the amazing weather.
Warm sun, great bars and restaurants just metres from the stadium, a defeat for England the night before, and a huge air of expectation — it was utopia for the thousands of Ireland fans, including 50 lads from Limerick who dressed up in a myriad of costumes, including a bishop, a couple of jockeys, and a soldier in full camouflage gear.
From 10am on, the hordes in green had started to make their way out on London’s amazing transport system to the stadium in Stratford. Many just wanted to soak in the atmosphere at the ground for as long as possible. Others opted to wander through the massive Westfield shopping centre a few minutes’ walk away.
As they prepared to enter the magnificent stadium, some fans were predicting a cricket score for Ireland — a 20-30 point margin in some cases. Others just said they would be happy with a five-point win, a good performance and safe passage into the quarter-finals.
John Rockett was one of a gang of five friends from Portlaw, Co Waterford, who had their faces painted and complementary tricolour flags and hammers, but he wasn’t getting carried away with the team’s prospects.
He predicted Italy would be put it to Ireland physically for 40-50 minutes. “Ireland’s skill level and fitness will take over. I’d say Ireland will be lucky to get the bonus point and will win by 10-12 points,” he said. As it turned out, John was not far wrong.
Nonetheless, Ireland remain unbeaten and the World Cup journey continues. For quite a few of the travelling Irish fans, the weekend’s rugby offered up a double celebration. They congregated in their hundreds in Irish bars across London to watch England’s match against Australia on Saturday. One of the largest and, quite possibly busiest, was Waxy O’Connors just metres from Leicester Square.
The small number of brave English fans who had gathered there gamely tried to cheer their side’s rare scores. But they were accosted by an almost deafening roar for each Australia score and with “Aussie Aussie Aussie” for the last Australian try.
“Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio” was belted out both when English scrumhalf Owen Farrell was sent to the bin and at the final whistle when the hosts were dumped out of the competition.
Of course,at that final whistle some threw a charitable arm around an English-jerseyed shoulder.
One of the stranger sights of the weekend came just before the England match kicked off and was of grown Irish men becoming tongue-tied as they spotted an object of their affection.
The gaggle of fans had gathered to get on the underground at Waterloo when it was pointed out to them that Ireland’s outgoing defence coach Les Kiss was standing just a few feet away.
As soon as the doors of the tube opened, they quietly walked in behind him, followed him to the area where he was sitting and stood sheepishly, trying not to stare at him.
When he got off at Leicester Square, they did too but reverentially allowed him to go first. They had almost met one of their heroes…
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved