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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 20 April 2021
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The Happy Camper: the calm before the storm

The Happy Camper has arrived in Dunedin and is soaking up some pre-match atmosphere ahead of Ireland’s crunch clash against Italy.

Ireland train at the Otagom Stadium in Dunedin
Ireland train at the Otagom Stadium in Dunedin
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

ALL IN ITSELF, Dunedin is a tale of two cities.

On our arrival, we are assaulted by the Pacific. It’s relentless waves rush to the shore while the wind tears strips off them sending ocean spray skyward. At first glance though, the city centre is quite a different kettle of fish.

It’s quite possible that our own mood added to the low-key nature of Saturday afternoon. After Thursday and Friday’s excitement, the body craved yet more of that most natural of drugs, adrenaline. Without it, we are a sleepy trio ambling aimlessly toward the centre of Dunedin.

Dunedin is actually the Celtic name for Edinburgh, and there is no doubting the cities have one or two similarities – for starters they are both built on a hill and are damned awkward to walk around – but further comparisons would be clutching at straws. We reached the centre of town, known as the Octagon, in the early afternoon and found something far removed roaring shoreline.

We depart, unsure of how we will spend our time over the next 24 hours. We first aim for the greenhouse in which Ireland will play tomorrow and we then consider a rematch in mini golf, but nothing grabs the imagination. And so, we fulfil the necessary Irish cliché and head for the local.

Being walking-talking Irish stereotypes, we would have to meet people we know along the way. First to amble by the Craft bar in Dunedin was Anthony, a Tipperary man who teaches maths and science in Melbourne, and we know him from a brisk morning’s rafting in Queenstown.

Setting the scene

The next two were a complete surprise. Two friends from school, Padraig and his girlfriend Elaine, add more voices to the group and more tales of travelling and adventure from across the globe. They have come here via Thailand and will seek work in Australia once the World Cup has finished.

Last night, as honoured guests of the Pirates RFC at St. Kilda Beach, we were reminded that England have spent the last three weeks in this town. There is a tangible feeling amongst the locals that this is set to be the climactic weekend of their Rugby World Cup. Perhaps they are buttering us up, but they say that although the English spent plenty of time in and around the bars, the Irish bring more fun and more feeling to the proceedings… and it’s hard to argue.

Initially, we can’t help but feel a little sorry for the poms. They must have been bored stiff being stuck here week after week. But, as the sun crossed the sky and our small group grew and grew, Dunedin was transformed from a sleepy outpost to an out-and-out hot spot. Tricolours draped from every ledge and a distinct lack of rain allowed us to sit outdoors beneath a patio heater with a prime view of the television.

The Octagon swells with Irish bodies corralled into the cattle crush-style outdoor seating areas of Dunedin’s inner city drinking emporiums. Do we mind? Do we heck! We all watch in delight as Tonga shock (our arch nemesis) the French, collectively we wince in empathetic pain as Scotland throw away victory against England and by the time we take the bus back to St. Kilda beach, the centre of town is hopping – it’s like Sodom and Gomorrah at the end of days.

Lord knows what it will be like tomorrow, but we’re looking forward to it.

READ – Shane Jennings’ World Cup diary: week three

READ – Hard Yards: here’s what you missed at the Rugby World Cup this morning

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