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No room at the inn for Ireland team's wives and girlfriends as World Cup stars told to focus on the games

By David Young

Ulster's rugby heroes face six lonely weeks away from their wives and girlfriends as the Rugby World Cup kicks off today.

The Ireland squad flew to England on Tuesday and are in what's been described as 'lockdown' - cut off from contact with anything or anyone that could distract them from their quest for sporting victory.

At the weekend, IRFU sources said the organisation would facilitate contact between players and their loved ones - including providing 'family rooms' in hotels where the players are staying.

But last night a source close to the Ulster players selected for the Ireland squad told the Belfast Telegraph: "The players are in lockdown.

"Their wives and girlfriends will not be joining them during the World Cup."

All the players have received a ticket allocation for their matches, and it's thought that some may fly their other halves to Britain to see some of the games.

Of the Ulster players in the Ireland squad two are married. Rory Best is married to Jodie and Tommy Bowe wed former Miss Wales Lucy Whitehouse over the summer. Former Ulster captain Chris Henry and centre Darren Cave are in long-term relationships with Jade Hamilton and Helen Moore respectively.

Opinion is split over the attendance of WAGs - wives and girlfriends - at big sporting competitions. Some say it helps a player's performance, while others believe they are a distraction - citing the example of the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany when England players splashed their considerable reserves of cash around the elegant spa town of Baden Baden in the company of their glamorous partners.

Unfortunately for Bowe, this week's Rugby World Cup kick-off was the end of the honeymoon in more ways than one - as the Ulster star was dropped by coach Joe Schmidt from the opening game against Canada tomorrow.

Monaghan man Bowe - one of Ireland's stars of the last World Cup in New Zealand - has been in poor form recently, although that's not thought to be connected to his recent wedding in Wales to Lucy Whitehouse, who is now working as a nurse in Belfast.

Meanwhile, a row has erupted after it was revealed that many football stadiums where Rugby World Cup games will be played have hiked their prices for refreshments. Supporters face paying 20% more than usual match-day prices for beer, food and programmes. MP Damian Collins, who sits on Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said: "It sounds like fans are being ripped off."

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