Irish fans outperform Scots as game turns into Irish sing-song

Our ability to materialise on any foreign field must be in running for ninth wonder of world

Ireland put aside their stuttering 2019 form with a clinical 27-3 victory over their main Pool A rivals Scotland to open their World Cup campaign in convincing style. Video: Reuters

 

It ended up a soft day in Yokohama, but there was nothing soft about the Irish performance as they ground Scotland down first in dry conditions, then wet, to launch their World Cup with an utterly dominant, bonus-pint win.

On what started as a muggy, windless afternoon, Scotland’s supporters had seemed to have the advantage over their opponents in the sartorial department, at least. The area around stadium was a fan-zone in more ways than one, as many Japanese fans cooled themselves with traditional paper ones.

But for the Celts wearing kilts, meanwhile, the balmy underskirt conditions were to be their only joy of the day. They had little else to cheer about, while their rivals – in sweaty green shirts and even sweatier trousers (mostly) — celebrated not just four tries but an Irish defence the tightness of which even Scotland’s reputation with money couldn’t match.

The omens had been good in the railway stations of Tokyo and Yokohama earlier, where Irish passengers outperformed the Scots in both numbers and intensity.

Japan is a country of great decorum, in most respects. But squeezing onto already-packed trains is the one area in which free-for-alls are encouraged here. And benefitting from years of high-intensity training in such schools of excellence as the Dart and Iarnród Éireann, the fans in green excelled themselves in piling in.

The crowding included, Greater Tokyo’s transport system is one of the eight wonders of the modern world. But the Irish sports fan’s ability to materialise in vast numbers on any foreign field, no matter how far away, must at least be in the running for ninth.

Once again they did it here in Yokohama, green shirts far outnumbering blue in in the 68,000-strong crowd that almost filled the stadium. Given that, and the on-pitch domination, the game turned into something of an Irish sing-song.

The Fields of Athenry, The Boys are Back in Town, and Galway Girl all got outings on the PA, lustily accompanied. And even when the stadium broadcast the neutral Take Me Home (Country Roads) at half time, it sounded as if the Virginia fans were eulogising was the one in Cavan.

Despite the rain that fell ever more steadily after the game, Irish fans celebrated raucously late into the evening in both Yokohama and Tokyo, in marked contrast to the Sunday night calm that was descending around them as locals went home early to prepare for another hard week’s work.

In a well-named Tokyo bar called The Celts, Irish fans and Scots celebrated together as if the result hadn’t happened. But then again, at times like this, the ancient cousins tend to remember common enemies. Hence a chant that both joined in on with equal enthusiasm, pointing fingers at each other across: “We hate England, We hate England, We hate England more than you.”

Amused onlookers in the pub included the match referee from earlier, Englishman Wayne Barnes, who was trying to have a quiet pint and failing, in part due to constant requests to autograph copies of the programme, mostly by Irish supporters.

Barnes is not normally that popular in Ireland, or indeed Scotland. And in fact, a glance at social media during the game on Sunday suggested that he was being accused of bias more or less equally by both sides, as usual, with only the unaligned approving of his performance.

On the pub’s World Cup wall chart, nearby, someone had taken the trouble to write “Ireland” in the slot reserved for the eventual winners of the tournament. It was official: one big win and we were losing the run of ourselves already.

Among the locals who had welcomed us to Yokohama before the game were a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, dressed in a combination of western-style suits and traditional Kimono. “Can the Bible make your life better?” asked the poster held by a kimono-wearer. Alas for her, in the Irish fans’ immediate short-term, the answer was no.

Like half of Ireland’s tries later, the fans remained unconverted. But that the missed kicks were never a cause for concern only added to the supporters’ faith in another religion, only six years old and already a major cult. Joe Schmidt’s witnesses will now head south for Fukuroi and a showdown with the host nation next Saturday, wherein victory would probably set up a quarter final against South Africa.

Ireland have never made it past the quarter-finals of this competition, infamously. But after this performance Schmidt’s true believers will be thinking about the promised land. The more optimistic may even be considering plans for attending the last day and judgment, which in this context is scheduled for November 2nd, back in Yokohama.

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