French rugby invasion brings weekend cheer for Dublin tourism

Some 22,000 French fans in town for Heineken and Amlin Cup finals

Sat, May 18, 2013, 11:19

There was a palpable sense of disappointment among Irish rugby fans when Munster fell agonisingly short at the semi-final stage and ensured there would be no Irish team in the Heineken Cup final on home soil.

Irish rugby’s loss, however, has been Dublin hoteliers’ gain. The presence of two French teams, Clermont Auvergne and Toulon, in the final today means a boon for them and for restaurateurs.

“Rugby is always good for Dublin,” said Paul Gallagher, the manager of Buswells hotel. “We were calculating that the weekend of rugby is worth €12 million to the hoteliers. For hoteliers this has been a very good outcome, for publicans not so much. French fans don’t drink as much.”

He calculates that French fans will occupy 44,000 bed nights based on a two-night stay for each of the 22,000 French fans expected over the weekend.

This is the third major final to be held in Dublin in the last decade, counting the previous Heineken Cup final in 2003 and the Europa League soccer final in 2011; curiously all have involved teams from the same country.

The last Heineken Cup final in Dublin – between Toulouse and Perpignan – was played in front of a half-full Lansdowne Road. This year’s match will be a sellout in the Aviva Stadium by kick-off time.

Dublin was looking its best in the sunshine yesterday, although it is not expected to last. The forecast is for heavy rain around kick-off time at 5pm.

The Clermont fans seem to be outnumbering Toulon fans by at least three to one.The two sets of fans mingled happily together in Temple Bar yesterday evening before what they call the finale de H Cup, in deference to the French ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport. They were joined by a fair number of Stade Français fans in town for the Amlin Challenge Cup final against Leinster.

Clermont fans are the very definition of long-suffering. They lost 10 French championship finals, including three in a row in 2007, 2008 and 2009, before finally winning in 2010.

A Heineken Cup triumph would be a milestone in the 102-year history of the club.

Clermont fan Stéphane Brion said they had been “waiting for this for so long. We have been looking forward to this final for so many years.”

Nicolas Amblard said it was a “huge event” for the whole rugby region of Auvergne. Many Clermont fans had gone as far as Girona in Spain to get flights to Dublin. “The 22 flights from Clermont were full pretty quick.” Toulon fan Oliver Nicholas said the rugby-mad city on the Mediterranean was awash with red and black although only 1,500 fans came to Dublin.

“It’s too far and too expensive to get to it.”

Today’s match will be preceded by the European Champions village experience in Merrion Square, the rugby equivalent of soccer’s fans zones, which will be open from noon until late.