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Ireland has bumpy ride against Italians but green rollercoaster goes trundling on

Ireland made heavy weather of seeing off the Italians to reach knock-out stages of the World Cup. Adrian Rutherford was among the supporters

Dreams of Rugby World Cup glory have moved a step closer for Ireland after they completed an Italian job to book their place in the quarter-finals.

The team beat Italy 16-9 to guarantee progression to the knockout stage to the delight of the thousands of travelling fans who descended on east London.

A week after smashing the competition's attendance record at the national football stadium, Irish supporters took over another of England's famous sports venues.

The Olympic Stadium became a sea of green, with the Irish accounting for the vast majority of the 53,187 crowd.

And they got what they came for, albeit they were made to sweat as Ireland made hard work of seeing off the opposition.

John Murtagh, who had travelled with his two sons from Belfast, said: "I'm happy we got the win, but it was a nervous afternoon.

"We made hard work of it, but we did what we had to and we move on to the next game."

He added: "I was pleased for Iain Henderson. It was good to see one of the Ulster players making a big impact on the game."

Fans began gathering in the Olympic Park from early afternoon, enjoying balmy weather more reminiscent of high summer than early October.

Clad in replica jerseys and clutching flags, many came in fancy dress, with leprechauns and even St Patrick making an appearance.

The host nation's exit the night before had failed to dampen the party, and there were even some England jerseys dotted throughout the huge crowd.

For Irish supporters this was the latest stopping point in a journey through some of England and Wales's great arenas.

After Wembley and the Olympic Stadium, they return to the scene of their opening game, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where they will face France in their first serious test of the tournament.

That game will decide who tops the pool, and the reward for Ireland would be avoiding New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Yesterday's result was predictable enough - Ireland had won 20 of the sides' 24 meetings - but the hard-fought nature of the game took most fans by surprise.

Keith Earls' try gave Ireland a 10-3 lead approaching the 20-minute mark, only for two Italian penalties to cut it back to a single point.

Johnny Sexton gave Ireland some breathing space with two penalties, but it was a feeling of relief more than celebration at the final whistle.

There is also a recognition that Ireland need to step it up in their next game against the French.

Siobhan McCartney, who is originally from Co Down but now living in London, said: "It was a poor performance but I'm happy to have won. It was a bit of a reality check compared to what we saw during the Six Nations."

By the full-time whistle, the afternoon sunshine had given way to the chill of night.

Not that it bothered the fans, even if their T-shirts meant they were a little under-prepared for temperatures which suddenly felt more akin to the time of year.

Chants of Ole, Ole, Ole and the Fields Of Athenry filled the streets as supporters streamed into the night on the first part of the journey home.

Not even the now-familiar problems with public transport - a frequent gripe of rugby fans throughout this tournament - seemed to dampen the party atmosphere.

Next stop, Cardiff.

Belfast Telegraph


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