England lose rugby match, but win the drinking bout

Defeat on the pitch fails to dampen enthusiasm of 20,000 visiting fans for Dublin's hospitality
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The Independent Online

They came to Dublin to revel in Grand Slam glory, but the 20,000 English rugby fans who descended on the city should have realised that, only 48 hours after St Patrick's Day, Ireland would take some beating.

Despite initial optimism, English hopes were quashed convincingly as the home side stormed to a 24-8 victory. In the process, Brian O'Driscoll scored his 25th try to become the leading try scorer in the history of the Six Nations.

Such a blow may have been expected to dampen spirits but the Sweet Chariot of celebration carried on, fuelled largely by stout, admittedly.

Two hours before kick-off, the owner of O'Neill's pub, near Trinity College, admitted that away supporters were in the majority. "It filled up pretty fast. I know some of them have not got tickets [the official allocation was only 5,500], but they're just here for the atmosphere," said Michael O'Neill.

The natives were equally keen to celebrate. With thousands returning home for the St Patrick's Day fun joining together with those returning from the Cheltenham festival buoyed by 13 winners, it was little surprise that so many were keen to remind visitors of their recent shock victory over England in the cricket World Cup. They found plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

"Any drop of Irish stout is celebrated this afternoon", declared Dan Unwin, a brewer from Harrogate. The 47-year-old, travelling with his wife and a friend, is a veteran of matches in Ireland, including the cherished Grand Slam triumph of 2003. "It's been a fantastic atmosphere all afternoon," he said.

"As usual with rugby, the atmosphere is tremendous, and with the history between the two nations they always put on a fantastic show.

"Everyone will party no matter whether they win or lose The sun is shining and the atmosphere is absolutely fantastic."

With the late kick-off, supporters of Ireland and England had plenty of time to kill – and drink to sink – before England tried to claim their 13th Grand Slam.

As a result the approach roads to the stadium were eerily quiet by mid-afternoon. When fans began the trek, what was most in evidence was rugby's ability to unite, with as many green shirts walking cheek by jowl with white shirts as bands of supporters from each country, a mutual regard that has existed for many years, not least since 1973 when Wales and Scotland refused to travel to Dublin during the Troubles but England did.

Peter Thomas, a spokesman for the Rugby Football Union, said everyone anticipated an "extra special occasion". Supporters' flights to Dublin were packed, he said.

While England craved the Grand Slam and the Irish were equally eager to thwart them, Dublin, hit hard by the economic downturn, had already concluded that the occasion was a victory.

English businesses were reported to have taken up a larger allocation of hospitality places than their hosts, and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce predicted that English fans would boost the local economy by more than £15m over the course of the weekend in the city's hotels, restaurants and bars.

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