Bill O’Gorman reports from Ireland’s great win over Italy at the Rugby World Cup last weekend
It was a different island, different scenery, but the same country, the same atmosphere and the welcome the Irish fans got from their hosts in Dunedin was also the same as everywhere else in New Zealand. The party started early on Sunday morning with the streets, pubs and restaurants thronged with good natured, good humoured, and great singing from Irish fans. On the twenty minute walk to Otago Stadium thousands of Irish fans were singing as if the World Cup had already been won.
Ireland fans, including all the green clad, South Sea Pacific islanders, by far outnumbered the Italy fans. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric from the start.
It was obvious from the kick-off that the Ireland team and backroom staff had done their homework to perfection. Just as in that famous Munster win over Sale Sharks many years ago in Thomond Park, when the Munster players targeted Sale’s best ball carrier, Sebastian Chabal, Ireland targeted Italy’s best ball carrier, Martin Castrogiovanni. Every time Castrogiovanni got the ball he was immediately hit by one of the awesome five, O’Brien, Ferris, Heaslip, O’Connell, or O’Callaghan.
The closeness of the game in the first half, with Bergamasco trading penalty kicks with O’Gara and Ireland being marginally in front at half time by 9 points to 6, did not quell the spirits of the Irish fans. And then came the second half and the spirits rose even higher as Ireland increased the tempo and performance with every passing minute of the game.
Again Ireland played as a team, a team whose confidence, commitment and determination to win was increasing. It certainly looked like birthday boy, Keith Earls, has his confidence back; Gordon D’Arcy, who has been questionable for some time, had an excellent game both defending and attacking; and Jamie Heaslip built on his great performance against Russia and had a tremendous game against the Italians. A great performance, a great day, a great occasion. Well over half an hour after the final whistle the Irish fans were still celebrating in the stadium. And so the party continues.
Next up Ireland play Wales in the quarter finals in Wellington next Saturday. Let’s hope nobody is going to call closing time on the party.