Many were perplexed with my decision not to travel to Dublin to support Kerry in the All-Ireland Football Final on Sunday 20th September last. Matters of national importance took precedence that weekend, and so I found myself travelling to Cardiff to see Ireland’s opening game in the Rugby World Cup against Canada.
With the sixty-minute direct flight to Cardiff costing a week’s wage I travelled via London where I joined my seasoned rugby supporter sister on a chartered bus. Sis is not only a member of the Munster Rugby Supporters Club in Limerick but is a first soprano in the Munster Rugby Supporters Club Choir. It’s great to travel with such a knowledgeable guide particularly as 68,000 others had the same plan.
Crossing the Severn Bridge served as the readiness point as most of the bus woke from their pre-match slumber – a vital two hours sleep to compensate for post-match lost hours. The bus dropped us near Alexandra Gardens and we headed up North Road until we saw this amusing art installation on the wall of Cardiff Castle.
By now the streets were awash with green shirts and the odd speck of Canadian red. Rugby is as much about the pre-match and post-match conviviality and merriment as it is for on-field play, and having a stadium in the city centre is perfect for creating such an atmosphere. A big thanks goes to Cardiff city planners for allowing the home of Welsh Rugby to remain in the heart of the city. And the result is the beautiful Millennium Stadium.
Roy Keane criticised Irish soccer fans at Euro 2012 for their sing-song approach to supporting the national team. Thankfully Roy didn’t choose rugby as the sing-song is part of the game’s culture and in no other country is the art form of choir singing strongly associated with the game than in Wales. Unsurprisingly, a local choir sang the pre-match official anthems, with the crowd continuing in fine voice throughout the match. As standard, the Irish supporters sang The Fields of Athenry. A local group in fancy dress belted out Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart with another group provoking outrage by singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, England’s rugby anthem.
Those with an interest in the Irish rugby scene will know that our pre-match anthem has been a source of controversy down through the years with Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, being ditched in the first rugby world cup in 1987 in favour of a compromise song to represent the team amalgamated from two political entities. That compromise song was the nineteenth-century ballad The Rose of Tralee!
In Cardiff, Ireland got the result they desired (50). Canada got the result they kinda’ expected (7) but this didn’t stop them from enjoying their trip to the Welsh capital. Post-match, both sets of fans socialised together.
We stumbled upon the lively and friendly Owain Glyndwr pub on St. John’s Street where we witnessed the biggest upset in rugby world cup history – Japan’s defeat of the mighty South African Springboks. The predominantly Irish crowd cheered on rugby’s minnows with the pub erupting into unbridled cheers at the final whistle.
Whilst looking for a restaurant our Kerry flags raised some eyebrows and attracted some teasing from fellow Irish supporters – South Dubliners, we deduced, from the upturned collars. “We support Japan but fight amongst ourselves” joked one of our group. A decision was made to find a Japanese restaurant but rested on an Indian choice when we saw the lengthy queue outside Wagamama!
Rugby can be accused of being the preserve of the moneyed middle and upper classes in parts but its World Cup has become the globe’s third-largest sporting event, and the sport continues to gain new audiences across the social spectrum. Why? Because it’s a great game which promotes international camaraderie as part of its culture – the world in union, just like the anthem. And Cardiff is one of the many great places to watch a game and belt out a song.