Door shut on stereotypical view of Irish on tour


Gerry Thornley gives a glimpse of life on tour with the Ireland squadas they prepared to play the All Blacks in Dunedin

Sometimes you'd tire of the perception of Irish people abroad. Anything to do with coverage of Ireland's World Cup exploits invariably incorporates pubs and beer being swilled. Okay, so that's what we did in Dicey O'Reilly's in downtown Dunedin as well, but really. In any case, the Otago Daily Times took it upon itself last Tuesday to launch, on page one, a "Paddy's Punchline" competition alongside a cartoon of, yep, a green-clothed leprechaun. The prize for the best entry each day was two tickets for today's first Test between the All Blacks and Ireland in Carisbrook.

On foot of this, the Irish squad's media officer, John Redmond, rang the ODT to tell them they were being a little OTT. "I spoke to the editor and outlined to him our disappointment. We found it insultingly stereotypical." In response the ODT sardonically acknowledged the complaint, and pointed to the "obvious phoney nature of the stereotypes", before substituting Paddy with Kiwi Bruce. Yesterday's winning entry thus read:

"Q. If two Santa Clauses were coming down a chimney, which one would be the Kiwi?

A. The one with a bag full of Easter eggs."

The unsmiling Irish

Heads down and focused, the Irish squad have granted just half an hour's access to training by either the New Zealand or Irish media - by contrast the home media are allowed attend the All Blacks sessions. As a result, they've not filled the stereotypical view of a touring Irish squad, to the extent that local television labelled them "the unsmiling Irish" while New Zealand Talk Radio on its eve-of-match programme questioned why the Irish had been so inaccessible. Hence, Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan was moved to deny they had deliberately kept a low profile at yesterday's eve-of-match press conference. "No I think it's been a pretty standard build-up for us in a Test week. We're happy to get to Dunedin and into camp here, and just get on preparing for what is likely to be a very tough Test for us."

Eating for Ireland

One place they did leave an impression was in Etrusco's, regarded as the best Italian eaterie in Dunedin. All 40 of the party went there on Tuesday night, and some returned on Wednesday, prompting the proprietor to remark on Thursday, "If they play as well as they can eat, they'll definitely beat the All Blacks."

Putting his theory further to the test, he backed Ireland at 8 to 1 to win the first Test, and also proudly displayed the docket confirming his investment on Italy, the land of his forefathers, to win the World Cup at 8 to 1. But the most celebrated punter in New Zealand is surely the one who bet NZ$1,000 on Brazil beating Costa Rica by 5-2 at odds of 100 to 1.

Dunedin's Auckland Embassy

For such a young city, whose estimated population of 120,000 includes 20,000 students at Otago University, Dunedin has a striking range of architectural buildings, reflecting its status as the wealthiest city in the Southern Hemisphere in Victorian times due mainly to the discovery of gold in 1861. Steep bush-covered hills surround a long tidal harbour while the city itself is a grid-patterned sequence of undulating roads. Founded in 1848 by Scottish migrants, the city was given the ancient name for Edinburgh and many of Edinburgh's street names are replicated here.

Built in the 1890s to host club games and cricket matches (the middle of the pitch is thus much harder as it's still used as a wicket strip) Carisbrook hosted its first Test in 1908 and is a quaint, slightly hotch-potch mix of old and new stands, constructed variously in the 1920s and 90s.

The terracing hosts the infamous "scarfies", mostly comprising students who drink as much Speights lager as they can. Above them are the corporate boxes, unofficially named the Auckland Embassy, as a dig at what one NZRFU official calls "the pouncy yuppies" from the north island city.

Fingerless gloves, thumbs down

The Irish squad had long since noted that home-based Otago Highlanders had been using fingerless gloves in some Super 12 games earlier this season and despite the initially pleasant climate on arrival the sudden drop in temperatures, rain and forecasts of snow prompted some Irish players to wear them in training on Thursday. Not with much success though, according to Eddie O'Sullivan, who said those who tried them had mixed feelings about the gloves and it would be up to players themselves on the night whether they wear them.

Longer ball causes problems

The ball is another concern.. David Humphreys (five from nine) and Ronan O'Gara (none from one) achieved a mere 50 per cent success ratio last Saturday against the Divisional outfit with the yellow adidas ball. Seemingly a slightly longer ball, both players have been struggling to land kicks from even the 10-metre line and kicks apparently perfectly struck can veer off target. The home side aren't overly enamoured with it either apparently, preferring instead the Gilbert ball used in the Super 12 matches. Andrew Mehrtens, however, did still kick nine from 10 against Italy.

Nesdale gets nostalgic

Former Irish hooker Ross Nesdale remains part of the All Blacks' back-up team. Nesdale spends half his time employed by the NZRFU as a lineout coach, travelling the country to different NPC squads and underage set-ups effectively as a throwing coach, and the remaining time is spent in camp with the All Blacks.

The other 50 per cent of his working life he works as a graphic designer. "It's quite a good balance," says Nesdale who returned home to New Zealand a year ago. "I don't miss playing so much but the one thing I do miss is the closeness of a rugby team and the way all the guys are relying on each other."

He's a little out of touch with Irish rugby although he intends renewing old friendships in the Irish squad next week, and he noted with some irony the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Russia and Georgia, joking "oh yeah, they were the type of games I used to get called up for. Russia and Georgia? Send for Nesdale."