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Rugby World Cup: Ireland rugby supporters invade Cardiff

By Claire McNeilly

Ireland may have a long way to go in the Rugby World Cup - but the fans have already been hailed as champions.

Tens of thousands of them -many from Northern Ireland - invaded Cardiff on Saturday where the boys in green were opening their campaign against Canada.

It turned out to be an easy seven-try, 50-7 victory for Joe Schmidt's men, and Ireland captain Paul O'Connell was full of praise for the huge army of rugby fanatics who had made it across from the Emerald Isle.

"They were absolutely brilliant," he said, following his side's successful start at a heaving Millennium Stadium.

"The bus drive to the ground for the match was incredible -massive Irish support. I thought the atmosphere inside the ground was incredible as well; one of the best I can remember."

Politics and journalism student Abigail Taylor (18) from Lurgan was in the Welsh capital for the game, along with her 20-year-old sister Rebecca and their mum Wendy (49).

"I usually go to the Ulster games at Ravenhill, but that was my first international Ireland match," she said.

"It was amazing. The atmosphere was fantastic.

"We arrived on Friday night and went to the fanzone outside Cardiff Stadium and we went there again before the match on Saturday.

"It was a completely overwhelming experience. The other supporters were so friendly. We were sitting beside some Canadians and it was shocking how nice they were."

She added: "Unfortunately we don't have tickets for any more matches, so we'll just have to watch the rest of the tournament on televison."

Her older sister Rebecca, an international politics student in London, also works for a hospitality firm that is staffing the matches.

"It was amazing - what a match to see, with an incredible 50-7 scoreline and so many tries," she said.

"I've managed to get a few jobs at some of the matches coming up, so hopefully I'll get to watch some more games that way."

Carole and Sam McIlwaine, who are in their early 40s, from Belfast, were also at the game.

Queen's University employee Carole said it was a fabulous experience.

"Sam wasn't into rugby before he met me, but I've converted him," she said.

"The stadium was rocking. Everyone was so good-natured. Cardiff really pulled out all the stops for us and we had such a fantastic time we want to go back to the city."

Sam, who runs a mechanics garage in Lisburn, said the atmosphere at the stadium was unique.

"It was like nothing we've ever experienced before. We've been to other matches and a lot of Six Nations games, but the atmosphere on Saturday was electric. Cardiff really embraced the spirit of the event and we had a wonderful time."

Rugby wasn't the only sport making the headlines here - it was a big weekend for motorcycling fans, as Jonathan Rae was crowned World Superbike champion yesterday at Jerez in Spain. The 28-year-old, who finished fourth in the opening race, is Northern Ireland's first motorcycling world champion since Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid in 1986. Dunlop clinched the Formula One TT title that year, while Reid was the Formula Two winner.

County Antrim rider Rea comes from a famous motorcycling family; his dad Johnny won an Isle of Man TT race during a successful road racing career, while his grandfather, John, was one of Joey Dunlop's early sponsors.

Sport Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said it was a "phenomenal achievement" as Jonathan only began circuit racing in 2003.

She added: "To become world champion a little over 10 years later is testament to his skill, determination and commitment."

Belfast Telegraph


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