It was the day that Irish rugby got its mojo back – and when fans found their voice after a season of uncomfortable silences and walls of uncertainty.
After the scars of the Six Nations and the trauma of Twickenham, ghosts were efficiently exorcised while a powerful Irish team exercised their muscles against the Welsh defence.
Back in February I pilloried the Aviva crowd for generating substantially less atmosphere than you’d find on the moon. It took some time to warm up… but by close of play against Wales, the place was roundly rocking.
At times during the Six Nations the place resembled a funeral parlour but this time it was Wales who were boxed in – while Ireland dominated the collisions, the breakdown and the scoreboard during an impressive second half.
Given it was a warm-up friendly in late summer, the initial signs were not good. The stands were mostly empty just minutes for kick-off amid the procuring of pints and the hunt for hot dogs. President Michael D Higgins shook hands with the teams amid a hushed backdrop.
As Wales dominated the opening stages, the gang sitting in front of me were having a competition to see who could create the loudest echo with their slow hand claps. And judging by the incessant thumping over the PA system, the stadium announcer was trying to stir up some artificial atmosphere by banging a microphone against his forehead.
The crowd stirred with Rob Kearney’s opening score and found their voice from there. The mood changed from polite afternoon tea party, to pub singalong, to raucous rock concert.
Initial murmurs of disquiet about Rory Best’s lineout throws were long forgotten as the captain left the field. A rousing standing ovation from both sets of fans set the tone as an Irish stalwart was practically lifted onto the plane to Tokyo. We may not see him on the Lansdowne Road turf again.
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Wales led at half-time but Sexton, Aki, Henshaw, Ryan and co had decided they were not going to lie down this day. Stirred by the dominant display, the crowd finally forgot its good manners. And thank god for that. The Lansdowne roar returned.
Rugby fans of all hues have missed heading to Dublin with the knowledge that a barrage of noise and song would greet them from the home supporters. Back in the day, you might not have been able to see the pitch from the terraces – but you could follow the action by the swell of supporter noise.
The shackles were off yesterday in the late summer sunshine as once again players fed off crowd, and crowd fed off players in that perfect rugby symbiosis. There was no answer as Wales were increasingly forced into their shells.
Referee Mathieu Raynal sent most of the second half with his arm raised for penalty advantage, which must have been as exhausting for the Welsh team as it was for him.
The Fields of Athenry rang out in a moving display of passion – ebbing and flowing through the crowd and untrammeled by noisy piped music. And with the result sealed by two second half tries, the crowd were in no mood to vacate the stadium early. Loud cheers rang into the warm evening air long after the final whistle.
On Monday Ireland will officially be confirmed as the number one ranked team in the world, an unusual position for fans of any team wearing green heading into any global tournament.
But during the second half yesterday the Irish fans showed that they too can be the best in the world. Can players and fans alike keep the passion and fire burning through the next eight weeks? Embrace and enjoy the limelight, channel that inner mojo… and remember that even in Japan, sometimes it’s best to forget the good manners and let out a roar?
If they do that, then Ireland heads into this world cup in a very good place indeed.
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