Rain and result fail to dampen ardour

Mon, Mar 5, 2012, 00:00

FOR ABOUT an hour it was shaping up as one of those games where the Irish crowd could be guaranteed to grow exponentially the second the final whistle blew. Half of Ireland would have claimed to have been there.

For those who did make it to the Stade de France, the satisfaction of a rare win in Paris would have been all the greater for the fact there were so few of them – so few you had to strain to catch the faint lyrics to Ireland’s Call coming from isolated green pockets in a sea of blue.

All weekend Paris had felt like the host who doesn’t quite know whether anyone will turn up for her party.

“I hope they come,” said Adam Wood, the supervisor at O’Sullivan’s pub near Place de Clichy, where sales almost doubled to €45,000 the weekend of the postponed match.

At MRK, a rugby shop in the Latin Quarter, manager Richard Zohreh hadn’t had a single Irish customer by the eve of the game – a common report from popular Irish haunts this weekend.

They did come, the Irish, but the cost and hassle of travelling for a Sunday afternoon match kept their numbers low.

And yet, thanks to Ireland’s dominance on the pitch in the first half, you wouldn’t have noticed the vast imbalance.

By the time Tommy Bowe lunged over the line for his second try on the stroke of half-time, the French fans were mute and the Irish in full voice. Sleeper cells of Irish support suddenly outed themselves with trenchant roars.

One of the outposts was manned by Jean Héry, a 24-year-old student from Brittany who wore an Irish scarf and cheered the visitors out of solidarity with his numerically inferior “Celtic cousins”.

“I support both teams, but I had a small preference for Ireland,” he said.

At half-time, the stadium was strangely subdued. Ireland led 17-6, it was raining heavily, and France looked like they were about to be undone for the first time since 2000.

“The problem is the Irish,” said Fabien Galthié, the French former international, during his half-time analysis on French television. Indeed it was.

The second half brought pounding rain, a narrowing scoreline and an ever-more punishing battle for territory. Slips and handling errors piled up, and on 57 minutes France drew level.

The home fans found their voices again, willing their team forward with a stirring rendition of La Marseillaise, but they were to be cut short by the final whistle. 17-17.

It was hard to say whose supporters were the more disappointed. France had lost out on their Grand Slam, Ireland on a first win in Paris in 12 years.

“We could have won it, but we could have lost it as well,” said David Kavanagh from Navan Road in Dublin.

“If you had offered us a draw this morning, we probably would have taken it. At least we didn’t lose.”

“At least they didn’t lose,” said Eamonn Dunlea, who had travelled from his home in London with his wife Susan and two sons.

“When we were here three weeks ago, we said it’s not very often the Irish come away from France undefeated. Now it’s twice in three weeks.”