STROLLING FROM THE sprawling Piazza Navona down towards the bustling Campo de’ Fiori, you couldn’t but hear it.
Three Irish fellas had broken into a rendition of Ireland’s Call as they sat outside one of the many lovely little restaurants that pepper the streets of Rome. Presumably under the influence of some of the excellent Italian wine, these Irishmen were butchering it.
Thursday evening and already the singing had begun. One of their partners pointed out that these lads didn’t seem to know all the words. But Ireland’s Call is topical after Andy Farrell encouraged his squad to really explore its meaning and message, so the trio of singers were at least in tune in one sense.
The sightings of green jerseys have increased in the 24 hours since, with floods of visiting Irish supporters arriving into the Eternal City for the first time since 2019. How we have missed this trip. Rome is a city so stunning and dripping in history that it almost seems fake at times. Around every corner lies another wonder.
The Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, but also all the other beautiful buildings and monuments you’d never heard of. Wandering the streets of Rome is richly rewarding.
The food and wine are out of this world to the extent that Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt, who spent three years working with Italy, joked that it’s difficult to make just one recommendation.
Rome isn’t perfect – the driving is utterly crazy, for starters – but a trip here is certainly among the best in the rugby world.
So it’s no surprise that the flights into Fiumicino and Ciampino airports have been jam-packed with rugby fans. People hopping over through London, direct flights from Dublin, charters from Cork. They traveled in anticipation of another Irish win and the Grand Slam bid rolling on.
Many of them are here for the craic as much as the rugby, although there are plenty of diehards. We bumped into one couple who were concerned about finding somewhere to watch the Ireland U20s this evening after finding out that their old haunt had closed down at some stage in the last few years.
Many of us were stopped in our tracks by the horrific news filtered through earlier this morning. Former Ireland international Tom Tierney died suddenly at the age of 46. Far too young.
It put things in perspective as we made our way out to the Olimpico Stadium, where the pitch looks in good condition for tomorrow’s game, which is set to be played in fine spring weather.
As Ireland arrived and started to get ready for their captain’s run, it quickly became apparent that someone was missing out on the pitch. And there was Garry Ringrose on the sideline, having been ruled out with a calf issue. He will watch from the stands tomorrow along with skipper Johnny Sexton.
Ireland are down a few bodies but they continue to embrace the discomfort caused by losing some of their key men to injury. Spirits seemed high at the captain’s run, where Ross Byrne directed the team about their business.
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The Italians come across as determined to spoil the Irish party in Rome. Their captain, Michele Lamaro, spoke today about how his team needs to make things messy for an Ireland team whose attack can be so fluid and precise.
Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO
His fellow back row, 22-year-old Lorenzo Cannone, underlined how tight-knit this young Italian squad is.
The emergence of such an excellent crop of youngsters in Italian rugby has been key to their improvement and it’s an indication of the good work that has been done in the underage system, much of it led by Irishman Stephen Aboud, who is no longer working with the Italian federation.
There are big changes afoot in that system but the Italians are aggrieved by some of the Irish coverage of the rejig. Indeed, so keen are they to put the record straight that FIR president Marzio Innocenti will meet Irish journalists tomorrow before the game to explain what’s happening in their elite development path.
Importantly, that chat will come after the media lunch at the Stadio Olimpico, which is usually in a class of its own.
Then it’s onto show time as Ireland go after another important win.
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