They flew in on private jets, they jumped on the Eurostar or, if they were not among the tens of thousands of rugby supporters who invaded Paris in a white and red tide on Saturday night, they watched England vs France on television in record numbers.
Nobody could have foreseen that England, the defending champions of the Rugby World Cup, would reach the final in France.
"To tell you the truth, I thought we'd be watching New Zealand play Australia," said Ben Clarke as he sipped coffee yesterday morning on the Avenue du Maine in Montparnasse while his friend Jonny Ireson tackled a beer. "It was only last weekend that I discovered it would be England against France in the semi-finals. It's been brilliant."
"I'm an Arsenal supporter but football's become crap," added Mr Clarke, an IT consultant from London. "Rugby is completely different from soccer in that you seem to enter a kind of family. We were sitting not just in the middle of English supporters but New Zealanders and Australians. The atmosphere was fantastic."
The two friends travelled to France on Eurostar from Waterloo but, smartly, bought their match tickets six weeks ago from Ticketmaster at face value. Even then, it cost them £200. They were among more than 40,000 England fans who poured into Paris over the weekend. The same number is expected to journey to the Stade de France for the final on Saturday.
England, smashed 36-0 by South Africa in the pool stages of the tournament, have been going from strength to strength. On Saturday night, they defeated the hosts 14-9 as the English supporters at the Stade de France bellowed "Swing low, sweet chariot". More than 70,000 spectators who could not buy tickets at face value, or afford the touts' rates of up to £3,000, watched England's victory on a giant video screen at the Eiffel Tower.
Yesterday, the French woke with a dull headache as their media expressed the consternation of a nation which had started to believe it was destined to win its own Rugby World Cup. The daily sports newspaper L'Equipe said France had lost because they had tried to take on the English at their own game – "rigour, selflessness and self-belief"– rather than the " beautiful game" traditional in France.
"The English won because they never gave up on being English. So English," L'Equipe said.
Le Journal du Dimanche's headline said "England put an end to the big blue dream". The newspaper's rugby correspondent, Olivier Joly, said France did not deserve to reach the final.
Now, however, the minds of England fans are focused on Saturday's decider. During the hour after the semi-final, 5,000 people logged on to the Eurostar website to search for train seats. The scramble to watch the final has seen single tickets being sold online for up £2,000 already.
Television ratings showed that 12.4 million fans tuned in for the last nerve-wracking five minutes of the game – 51 per cent of the available audience. But, on that count, the French beat the English, coming in with an all-time record of 18.3 million viewers, or 64 per cent of their total audience.
It also emerged that the brother of the referee in the England-France match, Jonathan Kaplan of South Africa, had placed a bet – on France.
The race to bag seats for the final
* The battle to bag a place to the Rugby World Cup final had begun even before the final whistle sounded England's 14-9 victory over France.
Last night on eBay, tickets were changing hands for more than £2,000 each.
Eurostar reacted to the win by putting on seven extra trains next weekend. And with airlines almost booked up, a fleet of private jets has been chartered to carry hedge fund managers, investment bankers and City executives.
Almost every private plane in the South-east was reported to be booked last night, costing £5,000 for an eight seater. Those on a more modest budget have been busy booking out cross-channel ferry operators.
By David LangtonReuse content