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Six Nations champions Ireland celebrated at Stormont: Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best among players

Ireland's top rugby stars - including Brian O'Driscoll and Ulster's own Rory Best have celebrated their stunning Six Nations victory during an event at Stormont tonight.

The bash to recognise the achievements of the Ireland squad, brought some of the side's top talents, such as captain Paul O’Connell and Andrew Trimble.

Ireland took the RBS 6 Nations title after defeating France 22-20 during a thrilling clash in Paris in March.

It proved to be a fairy tale send-off for Brian O'Driscoll - who announced he was hanging up his boots at the end of the season.

Tonight, head coach Joe Schmidt said the whole island of Ireland would reap the benefits of a successful bid to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The man who guided the national side to glory this season highlighted the key role Northern Ireland could play in securing the tournament as he and the team were hosted at the special reception.

While the reception at Parliament Buildings was held to mark the nerve shredding triumph in March, many eyes were focused nine years hence and on the potential of a cross-border world cup.

Schmidt said Ireland could replicate the success of his native New Zealand in its staging of the 2011 tournament.

"You have got the same population and the same kind of energy around sporting occasions and I think you have got the stadia," he said.

"It would have to be a buy-in from all the sporting codes but I think that exists, it certainly seems to exist in the enthusiasm that's been shown so far.

"One of the niche things for Ireland is the proximity of everything. You've got that nice proximity where the roads are good, you can get from venue to venue.

"I think people would go off road a little bit too and get into the villages and towns like they did in New Zealand in a similar way.

"I think the whole country has an opportunity to benefit from it and also an opportunity to support it with the way they welcome people in."

He added: "There are so many positives to it that I really hope it can be successful."

A cross-border working group, chaired by former Irish international Hugo MacNeill, has been set up to prepare a feasibility study into a joint bid by the Belfast and Dublin governments.

Noting the Stormont Executive's £14.7 million contribution to the redevelopment of the home of Ulster Rugby at Ravenhill in Belfast, Schmidt said:

"I'd like to thank the Northern Ireland Executive, I think its support of the Ravenhill redevelopment has been extraordinary and I think it's now a fantastic resource for Ulster Rugby and also to support Hugo in his bid to try and bring the 2023 World Cup to Ireland."

The event hosted by Stormont Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was attended by Irish captain Paul O'Connell, retiring superstar Brian O'Driscoll as well as many other of the Six Nations winning team. Rory Best, Paddy Jackson and Andrew Trimble were among the Ulster contingent present.

Ms Ni Chuilin said: "I have already indicated my support for the proposed bid by the Irish Rugby Football Union to host the Rugby World Cup in Ireland in 2023. It would be wonderful to see the competition taking place here and perhaps a home championship win for Ireland."

Stormont's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also strongly endorsed the likely bid.

Mr Robinson highlighted the success of recent sporting events staged in Northern Ireland, such as the Irish Open golf tournament and the opening stages of this year's Giro D'Italia cycling race.

"You can see the enthusiasm from the Northern Ireland public for any major sporting event," he said.

"That (Rugby World Cup) really would be the icing on the cake for many us, we'd really enjoy seeing that, whether it's at Casement (gaelic games ground in west Belfast) or at Ravenhill, or whether it's at both, it would be absolutely fantastic."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "This is a great night for us, we are very proud to be part of it.

"And we are also very determined to do anything in our power through our administration, working with the Irish government, to see that Hugo MacNeill, who has the onerous responsibility of hopefully leading the effort to bring a world cup to the island of Ireland, that he can succeed."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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