Rugby World Cup Diary: Shuffling around Saint-Denis with the Green Zombie army

A spine-tingling night in Stade de France and more of the same tough love in madam’s restaurant


Green Zombies. Everywhere. Bordeaux, Nantes and, for the second time, Paris. Appropriated by Irish rugby fans, the song is ringing out over Stade de France. Dolores O’Riordan. Warrington. A rugby song for these moments, it is sung neither as an anti-IRA song or anti-Irish rebel song. The French play it through loudspeakers, then halt the music. The fans continue the singing. Taking the tragic inspiration for the song and turning it into a World Cup celebration. Interpreting the art of Dolores. Perhaps. Players walk around the pitch satisfied, relieved, comforted, supported, empowered. The crowd share the empowerment. Unwilling to leave, they linger around the runways and concourse of the stadium long after the match is over. The memories: a cut-short life of a talented Irish musician, a jambon-beurre and Asahi beer and the thrilling chill of Zombie on a warm night in Saint-Denis.


Back to madam’s eating place, in the shadow of Parc des Princes. Madam’s partner, the tea towel man, who totters around polishing chairs and tables, has a wet patch on the back of his shirt where he whips the damp towel over his shoulder. Two hands are required for madam’s curt commands. She sends a willing lad over with a free plate of green olives. There are 73 counted, 67 more than needed. She stabs a finger at the red wine, says “non” and comes back with her choice for the evening. Looking at the phone, she serves the côte de boeuf on top of a resting arm on the table. Joy. Entering the Métro, a couple of disinterested armed police watch two bodies illegally squeeze through on one ticket. Near the stadium, a garda walks past dressed in her blue Irish uniform. Liaising and assisting. A pleasant out-of-context end to an evening.


Michel Poussau, the Rugby World Cup tournament director, tells us that 1.84 million fans have attended 40 matches. We sit underneath the stands of Centre Court at Roland-Garros. Court Philippe Chatrier. Rugby is in the umpire’s chair for now. October, and the clay courts have no red cover. Just the dull, faintly orange squares of underlayer on which the crushed brick will sit. A statue of champion Jean Borotra low on the backhand side. Nothing as empty as an empty stadium. To cross to the Auteuil Hippodrome, the famous horse racing venue at the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, is not straightforward. Four lanes of cars edging forward, engines gunning. Nearby, Le Congrès by Porte d’Auteuil is an old-style bistro with red velour booths. The waiters shake their heads and say no to people who ask for steak “well done”. Today there are no poodles with their paws on the table. That, the waiters don’t mind.


Walking along Rue Victor Hugo near digs. An inbox Twitter post simply says “Victor Hugo” with a pic of the Irish fullback. In the interview room are Springboks outhalf Manie Libbok and outside centre Jesse Kriel. Kriel answers a question about remembering the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup win. “I was in my pyjamas in the TV room of the boarding house.” Libbok, of humble beginnings, looks across impassively. Then Rassie explains his use of the traffic lights communication system he uses from up in the coach’s box. “The traffic light system has basically four different meanings and it changes every game.” Voila! Before he goes Rassie does two things. He apologies for his English when he doesn’t know what conundrum means. He doffs his hat to the Man of Steel with the soft skills, Andy Farrell, and French defence coach Shaun Edwards. For their “league grunt and physicalness”, says Rassie.



Bois de Boulogne, the city’s west lung. Bois de Vincennes, its east lung. We walk up past the tennis club, Art Deco stands of the steeplechase racetrack and swimming pool to the lakes. Joggers by day, prostitutes by night. Homeless men and women in the bushes live under cardboard and wood in scattered medieval settlements. From this side people arrive in from swanky apartments with kids carrying hockey sticks and tennis racquets. Along the route on the city side from Boulevard Suchet there are small climbing walls for kids. They are no taller than six feet. A table tennis table is fixed to the ground by a running trail, an iron net. The park sweeps over the Périphérique motorway that once circled the city towards Longchamps. But it has punched through long ago. Outside Paris in Domont, the three Jameses have differing fortunes at the Irish team announcement. Ryan out, O’Brien in, Lowe starts.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times