This doesn’t sound entirely rational but, having just returned from a two-man 24-hour trip to Dublin for the European Rugby Champions Cup group stage clash between Leinster and Harlequins, last night I sat down and watched my long-form recording of the BT Sport coverage in order to gain a better understand and appreciation of the game than had been possible from our high-in-the-stands vantage point in the alcohol-fuelled atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium.
For a match report on Leinster’s 14-13 victory, I suggest readers scan their newspaper of choice. The important point is that – with only the winner of each group guaranteed progress to the quarter-finals – despite now being level on 13 points, Quins still hold the edge over Leinster because tries scored (and particularly tries scored against each other) decide things if two teams end tied on points.
Having dealt with the facts, I now return to the subject of our Dublin expedition.
Thankfully, the chaos resulting from England’s air traffic control system going down on Friday because of a power outage did not affect our Aer Lingus flight on Saturday morning and we made it to our tiny hotel a quarter of a mile from the Aviva on schedule at 1.00pm. Terry and I are long-time rugby tourists, both of us now getting on of course, and so we were in an instinctive ‘pacing ourselves’ mode from the moment of waking. When you are all too aware that there are in excess of seventy pubs on the route from the Shelbourne to Lansdowne Road, it’s an essential precaution in Dublin especially when the match doesn’t start until 7.45pm. Six hours on the lash can be two and a half too many.
Needless to say, we had an epic time and in saying that I’m mindful that, on any ‘boys together’ tour, you really had to be there to appreciate the incidents and the craic – especially when you’re in the company of the Irish, one of the most naturally-funny nationalities upon the earth.
Just getting into a taxi exposes you to a monologue worthy of a stand-up routine. En route from the airport to our hotel, our sixty-something driver quipped that, unlucky in love, he was still looking for “a rich widow of my own age with a bad cough” and (using those from Kerry as a butt a series of ‘idiot cousin’ jokes) he said he’d once stopped outside a Kerry post office and asked a passer-by if it was open, only to receive the reply “Do you want to buy a stamp, then?” … and so it went on.
Soon we were phoned by our ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Leinster contact, who we’d also teamed up with on a Heinken Cup Final rugby tour to Edinburgh some years ago. He told us to get ourselves to Kiely’s pub in Donnybrook and within an hour we were joined by him and three similar locals.
Inevitably at some point I made my first trip to the gentlemen’s toilet where, above the urinal, was a large plaque in honour of one Ross O’Carroll-Kelly ‘who hit and missed here for many years’. Mentioning this back at our table, I was informed that this tribute was not in fact to a much-revered regular – well, save in the sense that O’Carroll-Kelly is a fictitious cult hero invented by Irish Times columnist Paul Howard.
See here for a link which may help to explain – IRISH TIMES
After four hours at Kiely’s, we found ourselves joining some female rugby fans on their way to the All-Ireland female rugby final between Old Belvedere and Blackrock College in a stadium just fifty yards away. With great glee our host managed to save us having to pay the 10 euro entrance fee by telling the steward that we hadn’t come to watch the game, only to go to the club bar for a drink.
From there, an hour and a bit later, to the magnificent Aviva Stadium, where we finally reached our seats six and a half minutes into the game.
The rest is history.