This weekend I found myself sat in a very squeaky, blue plastic chair, with, as the booming overhead voice so kindly told me, 65,282 other people in the same room. With our seats being in the upper block of the Millennium stadium, I was perhaps a little higher up than to my liking. As the last few thousand or so spectators began to trickle into the enormous arena, I dared a lean forwards. Below me was a sea of green, with every type of clothing you can imagine present, in the colour green of course. What else would you expect when Ireland are playing so close to home.
As I adjusted my own very flattering Ireland cap, complete with a green rugby jersey, you could hear the hum of excitement begin to build. We were all waiting now for the stream of players to come running out of that tunnel in the great depth below. The very nice man on the loud speaker did not need to tell us, however, of their arrival. The deafening roar from at least four fifths of the stadium was the indicator to the Irish team’s arrival. Together they stood proud, comfortable in the knowledge that they had the crowd on their side. If the sight of a green stadium wasn’t enough, the boom of their national anthem being sung back at them may have confirmed the slightly biased support towards the Irish side. Alongside them, dressed in red, stood their opposition, not looking quite so excited to be there. If I was the Canadians… well, I wouldn’t have been feeling great either.
A few minutes later, hands were shaken, refs at the ready, whistle blown and we were off. Hit after hit, pass after pass, and within minutes Ireland had fought through the wall of Canadians to score a try. With Jonny Sexton strolling with ease up the 25”, one of the most accurate kickers of current rugby leagues, Ireland’s score was comfortably raised to 7 points. For the next 36 minutes, Ireland were cheered on by the crowd in a way that I had never seen before, with supporters screaming encouragement to the players as if they were the ones playing out there. From all angles shouts of support and advice (none of which could be heard coherently by the players of course) were hurled at the pitch, with any Canadian support surely drowned out. The Irish fans were desperately calling out to their beloved team, and the Irish team answered. They answered by bringing themselves up to half time with an astounding score of 29-0 to Ireland. With seconds until half time, however, the Canadians made a break for it, with a lighting speed pass round the back of a player, letting the Canadians finally put down a try to their name. For a few seconds the Canadians were ecstatic, having finally broken down the stony barrier that was the Irish.
This was tragically short lived, with the ref waving his arms signifying a ‘No Try’. It was a forward pass. School boy error really. Fortunately, albeit due to a lot of luck, with Canadian player DTH Van Der Merwe arguably just being in the right place at the right time, rather than skill, the Canadians did score one try. But despite this, every person in that stadium knew the match was won the moment the match had begun. I personally felt as if this was actually fairly obvious as soon as I arrived into Cardiff. The sheer number of Irish supporters was overwhelming, with Cardiff City centre very much resembling Dublin all of a sudden. With so much support, what team couldn’t have felt that? With that drive behind them, how could the Irish even doubt their ability?
The Rugby World Cup remains my favourite sports event that exists. The dedication of nations’ supporters is evident, as made clear by the teary eyed, 6 “3, 15 stone builder sat next to me, who smacked me on the back with joy as the final whistle was blown (not the most painless of gestures by the way). This of course exists in other sports, but it’s different with rugby. With rugby, the passion of the fans is found at that perfect mid point between the ‘passive and disinterested’ type and ‘crazy hooligan who will potentially punch me on the nose if I disrespect their team’ type.
The match itself was tense, but remained a showcase for Irish talent, with the final score reaching 50-7 to Ireland. The world cup is yet to come into full swing of course, and I am sure I will continue to support my team, as well as millions of others. It’s certainly a competition, but when it came to the end of the day, the image of a Canadian and Irishmen both chuckling over a classic pint of Guinness should stand as a reminder that, you know what, it’s actually just a game…which brings together nations across all the world. In fact, this year’s tournament takes place of the 20th Anniversary of the famous 1995 Tournament, in which Nelson Mandela won over the heart of South Africa, acting as a key step towards bringing a cultural end of the Apartheid which had separated races for decades.
So, yeah. Rugby’s pretty cool.