The 2011 Six Nations is over and England are champions, but Dublin is celebrating an emphatic win for Ireland.
My match day started quietly enough following a night that featured Guinness to a large extent (why does Guinness taste so much better in Dublin than anywhere else?) to celebrate Grand Slams for England’s U20 and Womens teams An early walk around the city centre and a full Irish breakfast in the wonderful Bewleys, sorted out the steady string of emails, met a couple of people at the hotel and generally chilled before the long day ahead.
Just after 1pm it was into McDaids 20 yards from the hotel for a couple of pints of the black stuff with some friends then 2pm on the coach to the stadium. And what a stadium the Aviva is! We caught glimpses as we drove towards it and everyone was craning for a better view. Not all Dubliners are fans of the Aviva claiming it looks unfinished but there is room for imaginative structures such as this.
Irish President Mary McAleese was guest of honour at the pre-match lunch held in the President’s Suite. She spoke for fifteen minutes or so about her long-standing love and passion for the game (she has attended almost every home game in her 14 year presidency) and made the point that the Irish team is a combined one with no distinction between North and South. She talked about the importance of International Rugby in Ireland in providing a welcome distraction from the problems elsewhere in the country, and whatever the result everyone always has a good time. McAleese spoke with eloquence and poignancy and delivered the most thought-provoking match-day speech in my time on the RFU Council.
The Aviva stadium is as impressive viewed from the inside as it is from outside. The Irish support, urged on by drummers throughout the game, was expectant and ‘Ireland’s Call’ could only have inspired the home team while doing nothing for England’s nerves; certainly the Irish played was their best rugby of the season and England had no answer other than Steve Thompson’s interception try. But enough about the game. You probably saw it for yourself and there are already many thousands of words written about it elsewhere on the web.
Later that evening at the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge where the post-math dinner was, news came of Wales’ defeat to France and with it England’s confirmation as Six Nations champions. The RBS Trophy was already at the hotel and although there were cheers and smiles as it was presented to Nick Easter, few of the players felt like winners. Easter’s speech at the dinner congratulated Ireland on a well-deserved win but he couldn’t hide the disappointment of his team at falling short of the Grand Slam. However, he vowed that they would all learn lessons from the defeat and take them forward to the warm-up games and to New Zealand.
That’s not to say that the function didn’t have its lighter side. Flanker Denis Leamy was presented with his 50th cap and as Irish tradition dictates he had to sing a song, choosing Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’. At least he had time to prepare – Mark Cueto, who also won his 50th cap, was stitched up by Brian O’Driscoll and then by his own England team mates when he was forced to the podium where he gave a rendition of Angels, the song he sang when he won his first cap.
Revenge was swift however. O’Driscoll was presented with a special trophy to commemorate his record 25th Championship try and all 400 guests insisted that he sang too. His version of ‘Copacabana’ was enthusiastic but you will agree that Barry Manilow has nothing to worry about.
At 12:30am both sets of players and guests departed for central Dublin but discretion dictates that this is where my account of the day should end. It’s enough to say that the traditions of Rugby are as alive and well at the top level as they are at grass-roots!