Why were the crowd still eating chips when the chips were down for Ireland?
Some fans did make it in before the kick-off at the Aviva on Sunday, but the crowd failed to maintain the kind of fevered atmosphere that greeted Brian O'Driscoll try against France at the old Lansdowne Road in 2007. Photographs: Inpho/Eric Luke
On Sunday morning, I woke up at seven and the first thing I thought about was the game against England. Three o’clock couldn’t come quick enough. I went on Twitter to gauge what people were saying about it. I read the papers. I wasn’t doing it as a rugby analyst or even as an ex-player – I was doing it as a supporter.
I was really looking forward to going to the stadium and getting a feel of the atmosphere.
I presumed it would be electric. Why wouldn’t it be? With France losing a second home game on Saturday, we couldn’t have asked for better:England in the Aviva with a chance to take a huge step towards winning the competition outright and maybe start thinking about a Grand Slam.
But it didn’t turn out that way at all. And look, before I get into it, I know there are loads of reasons why it didn’t and I totally understand them.
A Sunday afternoon kick-off will always bring a different atmosphere to a Saturday tea-time one. The weather was miserable and some people would have been cold and wet for long spells of the game.
Above all, Ireland didn’t play well – or weren’t allowed to by a really professional and well-drilled England team.
I’m not arguing with any of that. But I’d love somebody to explain to me what any of it has to do with the stadium being half-empty as the Ireland team ran out on the pitch.
I’m talking about 10 minutes before the game kicked-off, when nobody knew how the day would pan out. Nobody had dropped a ball yet or knocked on or pulled up injured. Surely at that point, every Irish supporter must have been full of hope and raring to go?
So where were they? I looked around as the teams came out of the tunnel and the amount of empty seats was baffling to me.
Why wouldn’t you want to be there to have the place shaking as Jamie Heaslip led the team out? This is England at home, a game you only get to see every two years.
Every half-interested sports fan in the country would have snapped your arm off for a ticket. So why not be in your seat in time to welcome the team?
There’s no doubt the new stadium has changed what it means to be a supporter. In the old Lansdowne Road (and in the old Thomond Park), the terracing meant people had to get in early to get a good spot. So you regularly had a decent enough crowd in a half an hour before the game.
They stood and watched the teams warm up and got the atmosphere bubbling up the closer it got to kick-off.
I’m not saying this happened all the time – there’s nothing more boring than someone who goes on about how it was all better in the old days – but I guarantee you an England game in those circumstances would have had the old Lansdowne Road buzzing 20 minutes before the game.
As it was, you could almost have counted the people who were in their seats during the warm-up. That’s down to the make-up of the stadium, no question about it.