Picture it: Thirty men, each built like a Spartan warrior, puffed up with adrenalin and national pride, stalking their side of the pitch and eyeing each other cautiously over a painted white line in the grass.
This is a modern pitched battle where the fifteen men clothed in deep green lock horns with their challengers for 80 tense and torrid minutes. The peep of the referee’s whistle will set each team charging powerfully at each other while he does everything he can to get out of the way. This is the game they call modern rugby and you can witness the crashes and roars of it yourself at the home of the Grand Slam winning Ireland Rugby Team: The Aviva Stadium.
Ideally, you’ll be sitting in the stand, watching the tackles (and sometimes the teeth) fly, yelling ‘Heave!’ with the crowd, or throwing your hands in the air to celebrate (yet) another score. This time, though, you’ll be doing it all within the sparkling new surrounds of the grand Aviva Stadium.
From 1876 up until 2008, the Irish Rugby Football Union team would welcome challengers on the cosy, if a little old world, turf of Lansdowne Road, HQ for Ireland’s rugby team. This wasn’t just any old stadium, Lansdowne Road was a home. It was a little box of sporting memories, and although the frame is no longer standing, those moments of triumph and athletic prowess still play themselves out in the minds eye of those adoring fans you’ll be seated beside.
By building the Aviva Stadium on the same ground as old Lansdowne Road, the new pitch has inherited the same well trodden soil and is about to be the scene of some potentially epic battles. Technically, the upcoming Autumn internationals (known as ‘Tests’ in rugby speak) are friendlies as they’re not part of a tournament or league – friendly by name, but not exactly by nature. Let’s just say you won’t spot the players sharing an Americano and swapping cake recipes. Bragging rights are king in rugby and like in any professional sport, athletes hate to lose!
The upcoming tests are not for the faint hearted and will see Ireland’s best fifteen take on the big boys (literally) of the Rugby world, including the mighty New Zealand All Blacks, reigning world champions South Africa, as well as the brute force of Argentina and the exciting free-running stylists of Samoa.
Oh, to be in Dublin on an international rugby day…
A note to the wise: a rugby international day isn’t ONLY about the rugby. In the two hours before kick-off, and for, er, several hours afterwards, the streets leading to the Aviva Stadium will be teeming with animated, good-humoured fans. Here’s how to see a match like a local:
Lay your head in one of the well-heeled hotels near the stadium, like The Burlington or Mount Herbert, so you won’t be far from the action. Much of said action will take place on Baggot Street, handsomely bisected by the Grand Canal, which is basically a golden mile of pubs and eateries where you can grab a pint and some nosh before kick off. Drop into Doheny and Nesbitt’s for some old style pints then stroll down to The Chophouse Gastro Pub on the bridge for a steak sandwich or battered cod to sustain you during the game.
Post-match, feel free to follow the crowd but do try to sneak into Searsons on Upper Baggot Street for a hot whiskey (‘hot toddy’ to the locals). With the beer and chat flowing you’ll probably be regaled with tales of Ireland’s victories past, and dragged into discussions on heroes of the future. Hopefully, after watching 80 minutes of brilliant rugby (and, for us, another Ireland victory), you’ll have some opinions of your own…