JON CARDINELLI on the buzz around the World Cup bid, the vibe at the Aviva Stadium, and sprinting tightheads.
‘Here’s a scoop for ya,’ the Irish cabbie said, after enquiring about my nationality and purpose in Dublin.
‘I’m picking up a couple of South African bigwigs from the airport on Friday. Mark Alexander. You heard of him? Joo-ree Roux, too.
‘Perhaps I can ask them a few questions for ya,’ he added with a wink. ‘If the price is right.’
Every Dubliner I’ve met this week has offered an opinion on the Test between Ireland and the Springboks. It hasn’t taken long, though, for some to steer the conversation towards the 2023 World Cup bid.
The host for that tournament will be confirmed next Wednesday. South Africa have their noses in front, with France and Ireland ranked second and third respectively following World Rugby’s evaluation process.
‘What do you think of Ireland’s chances?’ the proprietor of Coppinger Row, a restaurant just off Grafton Street, asked. ‘No, no … not in the Test at the Aviva. Do you think we will get the bid?’
Later, I stopped at the Peruke and Periwig, a bar on Dawson Street.
‘Would be great to have it here,’ the barman said as he poured me a Guinness. The poor lighting in the establishment appeared to be at odds with the friendly staff and some of its more youthful customers.
Another cabbie I encountered felt differently.
‘I can’t understand why they [the IRFU] are carrying on about it,’ he says, referring to the bid team’s recent attack on South Africa’s bid and the World Rugby’s process. ‘They gave it a go and they lost. I don’t think Ireland is ready for it.’
I’ve been staying at a hotel located close to the beach. Every morning, I’ve taken a jog along the coastline, following the route of the DART – the local rail service – towards Blackrock.
On Tuesday, I returned from my run to discover that the shower wasn’t working. I bumped into the housekeeper in the hallway and she informed me that there was no running water in the entire hotel.
Not to worry, she assured me, the problem was being addressed.
I didn’t have time to wait, though, as I needed to get to a Bok press conference. My attempts at storming off were thwarted when the elevator refused to co-operate. I turned to the housekeeper, who was still fidgeting in the hallway.
‘Sorry,’ she said with a wince. ’It’s not working.’
The Boks enjoyed better digs at the Radisson St Helens. Outside of their press conference responsibilities, the players and coaches could be seen traipsing around the grounds and having coffee in the greenhouse-style restaurant.
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I noticed a few of them travelling in position-specific pods. After passing front-rankers Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx in the lobby, I bumped into the really big boys – Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Lood de Jager – who were in the process of organising a cab and heading into town for some downtime.
There was a lighter moment when the players gathered for the team photo on Friday. The icy wind cutting across the hotel grounds tested the mettle of the players – and in some cases, the integrity of their hairstyles.
Logistics manager JJ Fredericks, who has been with the Boks for 100 Tests, handed out the match jerseys before the team photo. When Fredericks signalled that the photo session had run its course, the players travelled back to the hotel at something resembling warp speed. Tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen outpaced a few of the Bok backs en route to the lobby.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Aviva Stadium is an impressive ground. Watching rugby in Dublin is indeed a special experience.
The singing of ‘Ireland’s Call’. The chanting by partisan fans in the stands. The somewhat incongruous hush that falls over the ground whenever a kicker lines up a shot on goal. It’s a bucket-list experience for any rugby fan, along with visits to the Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield, and several other European venues.
Does it compare to Soccer City or Ellis Park for atmosphere? Personally, I don’t think so. Dublin offers something different, but for ear-splitting decibel levels and energy you can’t beat the Calabash.
Photo: Paul Walsh/Getty Images