As The Cranberries’ Zombie rang out around Stade de France, capping off another momentous night for Irish rugby, the scale of the green wave that had made its way to Paris was revealed.
Strangers hugged and celebrated with one another, in acts which more than likely were the result of sheer relief more than joy, after a pulsating Rugby World Cup match.
Such was the level of support it seemed as though reigning world champions South Africa were facing off against a home crowd and not just Andy Farrell’s match day 23. Post-game, skipper Johnny Sexton seemed to ratify that assertion.
“I’ve never, ever seen a crowd like that. There’s no way there was 30,000. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were 60,000. We play for them and they gave us the edge tonight,” Sexton told the media following Ireland’s 13-8 victory.
Ireland fan Ciarán Ryan, from Rathfarnham, Dublin, described it as the greatest 80 minutes of test rugby he had ever witnessed.
“Wow. What more could you ask for? I’ve been to stadiums around the world and never experienced a night quite like that,” he said. “My voice is gone, and my head will hurt in the morning, but I’ll still be the happiest man in Paris after that.”
Fellow Dubliner Josh McMahon said even in the build-up to the game he could “sense the atmosphere” and felt that another special night was on the cards.
“Even on the Metro before the game, it was just a sea of green. I was down by the Eiffel Tower too today and the same thing again, just big Irish heads for as far as the eye could see. And this was just for a group game, imagine what it would be like if we finally made it past a quarter-final,” he said.
It was not just Irish fans who described the atmosphere in the French capital as unique, with a number of Springbok supporters also sharing that perception.
“We’re obviously not very happy with the result, and the referee might have some questions to answer, but the one thing we can’t argue over is how amazing your fans were,” Andre Kruger from Johannesburg said.
“I’ve been to four Rugby World Cups, including a final, and that might be the only game that comes close to matching that tonight. Amazing stuff, from the anthems to the singing of The Fields of Athenry.”
What lies next for this Irish side is anyone’s guess, but according to Kruger, he would not be surprised to see this Irish side finally go on to break their quarter-final hoodoo.
“You guys will probably play the All Blacks now in the next round, and as someone who watches them a lot in the Rugby Championship, I’m telling you that you guys are the better side.”
As Ronan O’Gara would say, in a quote now immortalised by Irish rugby fans on banners and T-shirts: “l’opportunité est f**king énorme.”