Green was the colour on the streets of Paris on Friday, as Irish rugby fans flocked in their thousands to the French capital ahead of Saturday night’s key Rugby World Cup fixture against South Africa.
From the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre and every Parisian landmark in between, green berets and unapologetically adorned county colours were on display for all to see. Andy Farrell’s Irish side is undoubtedly the tournament’s best supported team, with the exception of their French hosts.
The game sees the world’s top ranked side against the second, with the victor expected to go on to secure top spot in Pool B and avoid a quarter-final date in France. With so much at stake, there was a palpable sense of expectation among Irish fans along the streets of the capital.
Dan McCabe, from Kanturk in Co Cork, spoke highly of Ireland’s chances of overcoming the threat posed by an imposing Springbok side.
“I’m obviously really looking forward to the game, it’s going to be a cracker,” he told The Irish Times. “Outside of France v New Zealand, I reckon this is the biggest game of the tournament so far, and taking France out of it, I think it’s probably the best attack in Ireland meeting the best defence in South Africa.”
McCabe added: “We’re going to get up to the ground early doors and hang out with the Irish fans, and have a bit of banter with the Boks fans too, of course. All going well, I’d predict something along the lines of 26-19 to Ireland, but we’ll see.”
The Kanturk RFC man left his home in Cork at 1am on Friday to catch a 5am flight from Dublin to Brussels. He was not just eagerly awaiting the big match, the trip is also an opportunity to take in all that the French capital has to offer.
“We’re looking forward to seeing a few of the sights today, and we’ll maybe do a river cruise up the Seine too. Of course, we’ll also be sampling some of the famous French food and wine,” he said.
Ed Freeman, from Phibsboro in Dublin, also came to Paris in a roundabout manner – flying to the city via a stopover in Frankfurt in an attempt to avoid the “extortionate” airfares facing fans heading directly.
Soaking up the pre-match atmosphere in O’Sullivans, an Irish bar in the picturesque Parisian district of Montmarte, Freeman said he was “cautiously optimistic” about Ireland’s chances at the Stade de France.
“I think we’ll win, if we get ahead early that could be the key,” he said. “South Africa are built to get a lead and keep it with their big forward pack, so their style of play isn’t really suited to having to chase games.”
Tom O’Shea, a Connacht fan from Co Galway, was savouring the occasion in McBride’s Irish bar in the centre of the city. In his eyes, Saturday’s game is the biggest for Irish rugby since the 2009 cohort’s fabled Grand Slam victory in Cardiff’s then-Millennium Stadium.
“It’s huge, absolutely massive,” he said. “This game could be the winning and losing of the tournament. Do the business and the opportunity for something special is really there, in my opinion.
“They might be the reigning World Champions, but this Irish side just feels a little bit different, doesn’t it? We’ve been absolutely superb over the course of the last two years, nearly untouchable, and we seem to be peaking at just the right time too. I’m backing Ireland to get the job done by a score.”
Irish rugby fans are braced for what has the potential to become another storied night in the country’s sporting chronicles. The cautious anticipation of old has been replaced by a bullish expectation that this group of players can get beyond the quarter-final at the very least.