The recent Rugby World Cup reminded me how much I love rugby, and used to enjoy attending international matches at the old Lansdowne Road stadium in the pre-Celtic-Tiger days of the mid-1980s.
A bus-load of teenage rugby players would head up to Dublin and be released somewhere in Ballsbridge for a day. We’d sneak off for a pint or two at Crowe’s Pub (removing our school ties and tying our crested uniform jumpers around our waists in order to look a little less underage — or just huddling under a thick jacket if the weather was cold), usually meeting up with older brothers and other past pupils also going to the match. Then we’d stroll towards the stadium along the Dodder, and enter through what now seems like very low-tech turn-stiles.
We’d try to get as near the front of the North Terrace as we could. One year we were right beside a group of French fans who’d smuggled a cockerel in —as is/was their wont (do they still get away with this, or it no longer PC?) and threw the bird onto the pitch before the game started. One year when it was bitter cold we struck up a conversation with a group of Scottish fans who generously shared their hip flasks of good whisky regardless of who scored.
In my memory, the weather tended to be better for Autumn Internationals, but then many things seem better from a certain distance. I remember seeing John Sexton (father of current Irish out half Jonathan Sexton) bravely attempt a speculative drop goal from near the touchline in one match (possibly against France in ’89). From my vantage, he looked to be near the half-way line, but them Ireland were losing and desperate measures were called for. It probably wasn’t nearly as out-of-range as I remember. I remember the first time I saw Brendan Mullin play in-person (think Brian O’Driscoll before rugby was a professional sport) and being struck by how much bigger he was that the other backs — something that didn’t come across on television. In those days backs weren’t necessarily huge blokes, not like now, but Mullin’s success appeared to be due as much to power and strength as speed and elusive running.
So, with the memories stirring, I resolved to attend a game or two the next time I’m at home. But, first I had to learn how to get hold of tickets.
It’s always been difficult to get tickets for Irish international rugby matches. They are distributed to rugby clubs and schools first, and many people are non-playing members of rugby clubs solely in order to snag some tickets. For regular joes to get tickets, you need to join the IRFU supporters club. It’s not cheap (currently 50E) and you get a perfunctory bundle of tchotckes, but the main purpose of membership is to be in line for tickets to internationals. The club allocation goes on sale in December, and is usually gone quickly.
Being a cheap bastard, I registered to become a member, but held off paying the 50E until I’d confirmed that I was going to be in the country for the six nations. When I’d got my travel options sorted, I found I couldn’t log back in to activate my membership because the ticket allocation had started, and they quite sensibly close the club to new members temporarily to allow that to go smoothly. I snoozed, and I lost the chance for next year.
I may still be in Dublin for one or two of the games, so I’m hoping a supporters club member might come through with a ticket for me.
Happily, it’s a bit easier to get tickets for provincial rugby matches.
To purchase tickets for provincial matches, you do need to register with the home club hosting the game, but there is no extra fee to do so. It’s really just setting up a username ahead of time.
I tried to get a ticket for the Munster v Leinster game this Christmas, but could not for love or money. Well, not literally… tickets to the game were available as late as October bundled with three other Munster games. As I wouldn’t be able to attend any of the others, I couldn’t justify taking this expensive option.
I emailed the club and learned that single game tickets would go on sale on such and such a day. However, when that day arrived, they appeared to sell out before I could nab any.
I had better luck getting tickets for Connacht vs. Ulster, the other inter-provincial game on over the holidays. No need to pre-register this time, just chose the section of the stadium you wish and click buy. This was probably the choice matchup of the holiday period, anyway. Connacht were top of the Pro 12 for quite a while, and Ulster are also well positioned. I’ve seen both teams play via livestream this season, so I thought it would be a treat to see them battle it out in the flesh.
It was. The day before, a friend of my father’s said he pitied us, as the Connacht’s stadium, The Sportsground, is notorious for the freezing Atlantic wind that howls through it in winter. In actuality, the weather was mild, and in any case, we were in the luxury of the enclosed stand, with hot food and a well-stocked bar to our backs.
The game was good. Very competitive, but low-scoring; the teams evenly matched. Ulster edged it right at the death, but Connacht impressed, especially as they had lost quite a few stars to injury.
Ironically, a few days before the Connacht game, I saw that there were some tickets available for the Munster game the next day. However, having just driven a couple of hours both ways to Galway, I didn’t feel like making the long drive to Limerick 24 hours later. We watched Leinster turn over Munster in comfort at home, with a new appreciation after seeing the game up-close and personal the day before.
Now that both club and international rugby matches can be streamed live around the globe, it’s easier than ever to keep up with the Irish rugby scene.
Roll on the six nations!