Sports Review 2023: Unforgettable fare in Paris as Ireland claim Springboks’ scalp

A great atmosphere, a huge Irish crowd and a magnificent contest made for a truly memorable rugby occasion

Rugby World Cup, September 23rd: Ireland 13 South Africa 8, Stade de France

It was a day and night that tantalised long before the most memorable of events unfolded on a pitch in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis, an adventure that began with the steep, stepped descent into the Marcel Sembat Metro station, to set off on a two-legged commute.

Arriving at Miromesnil and changing to Ligne 13, the contrast could not have been more pronounced, the silence, the linear gaze of evening commuters staring off into the middle distance from the first journey replaced by a swaying mass of jersey clad supporters, Irish and South African, thrust into sweaty embrace.

Every time the doors opened on the 17 stops to Saint Denis Porte de Paris there was an expectation that a representative from the Guinness Book of Records would be standing on the platform with a clipboard and a clicker to ascertain whether a world record had been broken for a live body count in a standard carriage.

The general bonhomie, the singing, the laughter, the good-natured banter was universal, well almost; two males rutted verbally, polite in tone if not content, indulging in an adult version of ‘my team is better than yours,’ their partners conspiratorial in the background, smiling and rolling their eyes.

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The concourse outside the Stade de France had the familiar look and feel of a typical Parisian Test match atmosphere, boissons, baguettes and the buzz of anticipation.

The scenes inside the stadium were an experience apart, breathtaking and a treat for the senses especially in the hour before kick-off, the sheer number of Irish supporters, the colour, the singing of the newly adopted Zombie anthem, enchanting more than the Irish supporters.

The contest was riveting, Ireland’s boom-to-bust rugby, flashes of brilliance undone by errors applied a suffocating tension to the occasion that endured to the final whistle; no one could breathe, the game, the fans. Even Mack Hansen’s try had a nerve-shredding nanosecond as he elected to tiptoe perilously close to the dead ball line before dotting down.

In the end Andy Farrell’s side finished on the right side of a couple of pivotal moments as the number one side in the world won a 16th consecutive Test match to beat the world champions, 13-8. Ireland won the battle but Jacques Nienaber’s Springboks the war in ultimately defending their world title. But for that night it was a green field in France.

Ireland and Irish teams achieved great things in rugby, Grand Slams for Farrell’s side and Richie Murphy’s Under-20s who also got to a World Junior Championship final, and Munster coached by Graham Rowntree winning the URC title.

Even agonising defeats, Leinster to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final and Ireland to New Zealand in a World Cup quarter-final were brilliant occasions. But none eclipsed the night of the Springboks match. Even the madcap scramble to grab the last Metro out of Dodge and retrace the earlier journey worked out. It was that kind of day, that kind of night; unforgettable.

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