Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Rugby World Cup: Chilled Ireland waiting to turn up heat

Andrew Trimble, Fergus McFadden, Isaac Boss, Sean O'Brien, Geordan Murphy, Denis Leamy, Brian O'Driscoll and Paddy Wallace relax in the pool after training

As a bolthole from all the fuss, hype and attention of their great win over Australia, Ireland’s World Cup rugby men couldn’t have found anywhere better this week than Taupo and Rotorua.

The two towns in the heart of New Zealand’s north island have been playing host to the side that has created the biggest upset to date in the 2011 World Cup. And in both cases, the town itself has been the story, not the players.

Ideal for coach Declan Kidney to get his men’s feet back on the ground after that fantastic performance at Eden Park, Auckland last Saturday night that shook up the whole competition.

Taupo, which lies beside a huge trout filled lake, has offered everything Kidney wanted this week — a destination well away from the high spots of Auckland and members of the green army desperate to shake hands with Brian O’Driscoll and his men.

Neither Kidney nor O’Driscoll wanted that. The squad left Auckland the morning after the game and retreated to a town four hours south where the majestic Ruapehu mountain overlooks the town and the lake.

The players, who have taken on board O’Driscoll’s view that Ireland have won nothing and won’t do if they allow the sweet taste of the Australian victory to linger long in their mouths, have lapped up life in Taupo. From their hotel near the lake they have enjoyed stunning views across the water. The players have been accommodated in very large, 3-bedroomed apartments. They play table tennis and go to the local driving range.

Training sessions have been at the nearby Owen Delany Park and have gone well. In the afternoons, sometimes after video analysis sessions, they have been able to stroll around the town, or go to local coffee shops or simply stay in their quiet hotel rooms, reading. Taupo is one of New

Zealand’s tourist delights and Ireland’s players know they’re lucky to spend time in an area they would normally never visit.

Paul O’Connell said on his blog “It is a beautiful place and I am sharing a massive 3-bed apartment with Keith Earls and Conor Murray.

“Some of the boys went down to a local driving range that offers NZ$10,000 (£5,215) for a hole in one at a specially constructed hole.”

Alas, seems like none of the Irish boys hit the jackpot.

Brian O’Driscoll said “Unusually for me, the jet lag hasn’t been a problem.

“I am usually pretty susceptible to it after the long haul journeys but not this time. The acclimatisation days have really been fun filled.”

Today the squad was moving on, to Rotorua, to prepare for Sunday’s game against Russia. Jokes about bad smells were sure to feature prominently in the squad’s banter as soon as they got there for the town is notorious for its hot springs and sulphur dioxide smells.

Rotorua sits on the Pacific ring of fire so you can explore all the geo-thermal areas.

Taupo is 51 miles (81 kilometres) from Rotorua, an hour’s drive, and the road has unusual volcanic geography and also large tracts of plantation pine forests.

All over the town, from tiny little cracks in the earth, you see hot steam rising 24 hours of the day. In certain areas, the mud is forever bubbling from the underground springs.

It’s not as pretty as Taupo but one thing the players could enjoy, as at Taupo, was the outdoor pool fed by hot, natural spring water.

The weather has been far from hot in the north island in what has so far been quite a wet spring.

But even in the cold of a New Zealand night at this time of year, it is a delight to plunge into a hot, steaming swimming pool filled with natural warm water and look up at the stars.

Such experiences represent the charm of a Rugby World Cup for the players.

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