Belfast Telegraph

Fans dare to dream of world glory as French are put to the sword

By Adrian Rutherford

Irish rugby fans are daring to dream of World Cup glory after their team produced their best performance of the tournament so far to topple France.

Cheered on by a sea of green, Ireland claimed a 24-9 victory over Les Bleus in Cardiff.

Now supporters are making plans for a return to the Welsh capital next Sunday for a quarter-final date with Argentina.

It's a match which gives Ireland arguably their best ever chance of making the semi-finals for the first time.

Afterwards the streets of Cardiff echoed to the sound of the Fields of Athenry and chants of 'Ole, Ole, Ole' as fans partied into the night.

An ecstatic Maura Griffin had already booked tickets for next Sunday in the expectation of beating the French.

She believes Ireland's World Cup journey has a long way still to run.

"I'm over the moon - I've been dreaming of this moment, but now the dream is real," she said.

"We're coming back next weekend, we've already our tickets booked, and we're going to have a great time.

"Argentina will be really tough, but I believe we'll do it."

After stop-offs at Wembley and the Olympic Stadium in the past fortnight, Ireland's World Cup journey was back on more familiar ground.

The Millennium Stadium holds many happy memories for fans - think Ronan O'Gara's kick to clinch the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009.

A vast arena on the banks of the River Taff, it is a venue to both inspire and intimidate.

The Irish fans did their best to ensure it was the former.

As they entered the pitch past a dazzling pyrotechnic display to a near deafening roar, Ireland's players were met by a wall of green.

The huge backing had been a feature of the three previous games, and this was no different, despite the challenges of getting here.

One of the great rugby cities, Cardiff isn't quite suited to an invasion on this scale.

Flights had sold out weeks in advance, forcing fans to be a little more resourceful with their travel plans.

Some had arrived via Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool.

Others opted to head to London - over 150 miles away - and make an early-morning dash back across England to Cardiff.

It led to chaotic scenes at Paddington Station as several thousand Irish fans waited to board trains heading for the Welsh capital.

Among them was Shane Matthews from Dublin. He and his two sons were heading to the game - and all were coming by different means.

"I've a son who is living outside Bristol who is going by train and another who's studying at Trinity in Dublin who is coming by ferry," he explained.

There were also lengthy delays on the final leg of the journey, as Cardiff's main train station again struggled to cope with the sheer numbers.

By early afternoon, the streets of the city were alive to the spectacle of Ireland fans.

The pre-match nerves were soon eased, as Ireland led 9-6 at the break.

Rob Kearney's try increased their advantage, with Conor Murray adding a further score late on.

The only negative was injuries to three key players - Johnny Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony.

The result was greeted with mass celebration from the travelling army.

Monica Shoan said she was stunned by the margin of victory.

"I didn't expect this - I thought it would be very tight," she said.

"The performance was very good. I think we will have worried a few of the contenders today."

The celebrations weren't just borne out of the satisfaction of winning the game, topping the group and getting one over on the French.

The consequences could be far-reaching.

New Zealand were waiting had Ireland lost this game, but now Joe Schmidt's side cannot meet them before the final.

One step at a time, though. Argentina await.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph