“Ballroom dancing is a contact sport. Rugby is a collision sport." Heyneke Meyer, former Springboks coach.
Mr Meyer hit the nail on the head. The sport of rugby is as a pitched battle with a ball. The players are modern gladiators and the fans are the baying crowds.
For one May weekend, and two finals between – Dublin is the Colosseum.
But before the Leinster meet Stade Francais in the Amlin Challege Cup Final and RC Toulon meet AS Clermont Auvergne in the H Cup Final, take some time to explore rugby’s capital.
It’s Friday morning in Dublin. By 20:00 you’ll be cheering your Amlin Challenge Cup heroes onto the field – but before that, let’s see the city.
Start at the beginning – Trinity College Dublin. Not only a Dublin landmark and the beating heart of Ireland’s Cricket scene, this happens to be the home of one of the oldest Rugby Clubs in the world. Just 30 years after Webb Ellis invented the game in 1823, the club was founded right here at Dublin’s city centre.
The playwright and the park
Pre game, get some air by dipping into Georgian Dublin’s greatest centrepiece: Merrion Square. Not only do the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery sit side by side, but the park there is one of the city’s smallest and finest. If you spot Oscar Wilde amid the greenery, tell him we said hello. The literary genius may be buried in Paris, but he began his life on this very square.
Image: Patricia Hofmeester
But enough with culture. Rugby immortality awaits so it’s off to the banks of Dublin’s Grand Canal, and the RDS Stadium. Allez Stade Francais versus the lions of Leinster, last year’s H Cup winners!
Regardless of the result, you still need to eat. Swing over to hipster central on George’s Street for a bite. Fancy a steak? Hit up Bear, a restaurant co-owned by Leinster number 8, Jamie Heaslip – he may not be there that evening, though, as he’ll be recovering from his pitch-side battle with Stade Francais.
Just around the corner, Fade Street Social is shiny new and already becoming a firm favourite. Expect funky food without the huge price tag.
And so to bed – tomorrow is a big day.
Road to the Aviva
It’s H Cup Final day but before kick off, you’ve got a bus to catch. Dublin’s Hop on Hop Off Tours will guide you around the city’s hot-spots from snapshots of the city’s liquid legacy at the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery to vast cathedrals and Viking remains. Speaking of which, the Viking Splash tour takes to the river Liffey daily from Stephen’s Green and has shot to the top of Dublin’s quirky/cool list.
For a taste of the pre-match atmosphere take a stroll down Baggot Street. Not just easy access to the Aviva Stadium, this stretch of Georgian Dublin is regularly called ‘The Baggot Mile’ for its profusion of excellent pubs. And if they’re lively for the rest of the year, you can only imagine what they’re like on match day (ask anyone who’s been to Dublin for a Six Nations showdown, and they’ll tell you the same). Toners, O’Donoghue’s and, over the canal, Searsons and the Waterloo are essential visits before kick off. They all do pretty good lunches, too, so you’ll be well prepped for the roaring atmosphere of the Aviva Stadium later on.
Dinner for winners… and runners-up
Simply watching 80 minutes of full-tilt rugby can make anyone hungry again. You can keep it casual and pop into Beshoffs at the Grand Canal for a hold-in-hand fish and chip supper (remember to add plenty of vinegar!) or you could grab a Fillet of Dundalk Beef with Parsnip Cream at The Chop House. This place is busily adding awards to its already long list, so you’re guaranteed a treat.
Remember that the final whistle doesn’t mean you have to high-tail it to the airport. Stick around: Dublin’s doorstep has a trick or two up its sleeve for the next day.
One more day
On a sleepy Sunday, the DART (Dublin’s seaside rail system) is your best friend. Hop on and, north or south, all you’ll find is cute seaside villages, beaches and excellent seafood chowder. Oh, and a friendly seal or two.
To stretch your legs let the dark whisk you to Howth where the peninsula boasts one of the finest loop walks on the east coast. Howth Castle, Howth Abbey and Baily Lighthouse mark this trot out as a picture-perfect stroll. Fresh air will leave you hungry, so pop into Aqua on the pier for a bowl of chowder flecked with Dublin Prawns and fresh mussels.
Should you find yourself drawn south, hop off at Killiney and walk the Vico Road back to Dalkey, a village of boutique restaurants, cosy pubs and its own medieval castle. The area here is known as ‘Ireland’s Riviera’ and with names like Bono, The Edge and Enya calling it home, there’s plenty of star-spotting to be had.
Win, lose or draw it’s weekends like this that make Dublin worth the trip.