Letter from London: Ireland fill up Wembley on a beautiful RWC day

Even the well-beaten Romanians loved a wonderful occasion at the London venue.

Murray Kinsella reports from Wembley

YOU KNEW IT was a big day out for the Romanians when they stopped Brian O’Driscoll pitchside just before the game.

A view of Wembley Stadium during today's game Wembley was a sensational venue for Ireland's record crowd. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Some of the Oaks’ non-playing squad members were on the sideline taking in the growing atmosphere in Wembley when the legendary Irish centre strolled past, heading in the direction of ITV’s presentation area.

“Brian, Brian, we make selfie?”

O’Driscoll obliged, six times over. Smiles all round. A great day out.

One of the Romanian players, Florin Surugiu, even proposed to his girlfriend on the pitch after his side were seen off by Joe Schmidt’s Ireland. She said yes, although you felt that some of Surugiu’s teammates will cherish their selfies almost as much the scrum-half will his fiancée.

The truth is that these big World Cup days feel like more than just rugby games. A tournament record crowd of 89,267 – which bettered the mark set a week previously at the same venue – were here as much for the occasion as the rugby.

With a welcome late September sun streaming down, there was an extremely relaxed vibe about Ireland’s second pool game. One senses that may not always be the case in the coming weeks.

But here, Ireland enjoyed themselves. Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Luke Fitzgerald and the others who weren’t directly involved were present and contributing, helping halfbacks with kicking before the warm-up, sharing jokes, handing out water.

Ireland fans Irish fans packed out the London venue. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Schmidt was as relaxed as he can be on a game day. After being forced to hurry past a flock of young fans chirping desperately for an autograph in order to hold a centre-of-the-pitch meeting with assistant Simon Easterby, Schmidt promised “Later, later.”

Mr. Nice Guy was back within three minutes to scribble his signature on jerseys and programmes. This group of wide-eyed fans wanted selfies too, so Schmidt indulged.

When we got into the action, it took barely 10 minutes for ‘The Fields of Athenry’ to ring out around the Wembley bowl, as it became increasingly clear that this posse was certainly going to push the record World Cup attendance.

Confirmation came in the second half and was met with a booming rendition of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé,’ increasingly the World Cup song of choice for Ireland’s broadened and inclusive support base.

The Mexican wave did almost 10 rounds as Ireland ran in more tries in the final quarter, after Keith Earls had equalled a record a little earlier.

“This is a hell of a noise, I’ve got sympathy for them,” said referee Craig Joubert to Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip when the Romanians were forced into a tight huddle to get their defensive lineout call into all 16 ears.

The phenomenal Irish crowd had been gathering outside Wembley from midday onwards, more than four hours before the game began. Many had travelled across the Irish sea, but many more had only to cross the Thames. Some not even that.

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A view of a Sold Out Sign outside Wembley Stadium It felt more like a summer's day at Wembley yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This is increasingly a home World Cup for Ireland because of those expats who have pounced on the chance to don green and meet old friends at the Millennium Stadium and Wembley. They will do the same at Olympic Park next weekend, when Ireland face Italy.

Afterwards at Wembley, Romania’s coach Lyn Howells was full of laughs and kind words about Ireland’s prospects for the rest of the tournament. The Welshman comes across as wonderfully old-school and brought some laughter from Schmidt pre-match too.

There were smiles from the Kiwi at the press conference following his side’s six-try win, although mainly at the suggestion that Ireland could be satisfied with what they’ve achieved in their opening games. Only 100% perfection would bring that.

Schmidt’s men rested up in their Hilton base adjacent to the stadium last night, but move on in the direction of Guildford today for a week’s training at Surrey Sports Park.

Around 40 minutes drive from London, the Surrey town should provide Schmidt’s players with another cocoon away from the World Cup madness elsewhere. That formula worked superbly for Ireland last week as they prepared for Romania.

With every one of the 31-man squad, Robbie Henshaw apart, having featured so far and form looking strong in most quarters, almost everything is positive for Ireland right now. Rob Kearney’s glute/hip is one concern of course.

The real stuff is still to come, but there is momentum on Ireland’s side, both on and off the pitch.

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These Irish rugby fans pulled off a prank on the big screen before the match at Wembley

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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