Black And Red Army Tour Diary – Edinburgh to Dublin (and Back)

Craig Little writes:

Around 100 Edinburgh supporters made the journey to Dublin on the Semi Final “Fun  Buses” at the weekend.   Arriving at the SRU headquarters at 6.45am, having travelled down with my dad from Inverness the night before, we were looking forward to the trip, despite the long journey ahead.

Nearly everyone was dressed in black and red and a fair few in kilts. By speaking to people on the bus it was clear that everyone was from a variety of clubs: Linlithgow, Moray, Kirkcaldy, Highland, Lasswade, Waysiders, Hawick to name a few, let alone the people representing the “home” clubs.  The age group ranged from youngsters with their dads, groups of mates in their 20s, to a guy who I guessed must be in his mid 80s.

A quick pit stop at Girvan en route, and we picked up our new driver “Gerry”, who was full of the patter and did a great job of looking after us throughout the weekend.  Arriving at Cairnryan, he gave one of the passengers a box full off Edinburgh Flags, scarves and face paints, which was passed around the bus and appreciated by all.  He kept us entertained with some banter including using the face paint on one bald guys head.  Aboard the ferry the groups soon headed for the bar and food and sat back for a very smooth crossing, which took around 2 hours to Belfast.

Arriving into Dublin, we were greeted with a lot of traffic and it was slow going as we approached the stadium. It was clear from the road and the number of Ulster tops/flags that we were well outnumbered. For the first time at a rugby match, I experienced what I would best describe as “football banter” with the Ulster fans booing our buses and shouting towards us as well as making hand gestures.

On the way into the ground it was clear from the ten minute walk that the Ulster fans thought we were there merely to make up the numbers and it would be a whitewash. To say they were confident was an understatement! My dad and I bantered with a few Irish lads, also wearing kilts, who thought they would be three of four tries up by half time.

This was my first time at the Aviva and my first impressions were good. Nice Stadium, easy to navigate and I like stadiums that have the food court and bars close to the seats. There were also mobile bars, with people wearing Heineken Back packs and dispensing beers.  My only grumble was the toilets… I thought only women faced queues!

As for the game, we made too many mistakes. A couple of the big players didn’t front up. Questions need to be asked of Poite’s decision making, the ball was out for their try, and was Lee Jones in front of Laidlaw at one of the penalties? Why was Ferris not sin binned?

The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic, with so many white flags and the noise from the Ulster fans was incredible. In response the reported 4000 Edinburgh fans adopted Ulster’s song “Stand Up for the Ulster Men”, changing it to “Stand up for the Edinburgh” whenever the Ulster fans were quiet. It was amusing to see the reaction of some of their fans when we first did it.

Ultimately the Ulster, or should I say South African experience showed. Pienaar never looked like missing kicks on Saturday and from the moment he slotted over the first one from halfway, we knew penalties would be costly.

The try in the last minute from Thomson was great to see, however Edinburgh left it a little too late and despite having 60% possession couldn’t make the breakthrough early enough in the second half.

After the match, we headed back to the buses and another long delay, taking nearly 1.5 hours to get out of Dublin, which meant that we arrived back to Belfast around 23:30.  A few folk headed to their beds while a small group gathered in our hotel bar to have a few more drinks.  Spread across three hotels, only a few hardy souls ventured further into Belfast’s night life. At our bar were lucky enough to be joined by current Northampton Saints Number 8 Roger Wilson, who was home for the weekend to take in the match.  He was an interested spectator, given that he will be joining Ulster for next season.

Edinburgh should be proud of what they have achieved this season in the cup and should continue to build a strong fan base by providing these types of trips (although this was arranged by Stenaline). At £99 for return travel, overnight accommodation and breakfast you can’t go wrong.  Although there is a lot of travelling involved, by not taking any time off work and taking the cheapest option for getting there the experience is as much as what you put into it as what you get out.  You simply need to look on twitter for the #semifinalfunbus to see other people’s thoughts.

As we sank the last few pints of Guinness on the ferry home, the general feeling amongst the supporters on the buses was that it was a great deal and something that they would do again. Perhaps Scotland could look at this for the Six Nations and Edinburgh/Glasgow build on this for future Heineken and Rabo Games. Scots love to travel!

With the season’s end almost upon us, all eyes turn to Glasgow.  This Saturday sees the Warriors with a chance to secure a play off place, as well as the Glasgow 7s taking place.  Let’s hope that all involved in Scottish Rugby gets behind them, as we have with Edinburgh’s campaign and finish the season off with a smile.

For me the only good thing to come out of Edinburgh’s defeat is now that I wont be going to London, I can spend the weekend at the “World’s Most Sociable Sevens” on the Isle of Mull.

I eventually arrived back to Inverness around 9.30pm last night, having travelled more than 850 miles in the last two days. Was it all worth it?

…..of course it was!

For any more rugby related ramblings, please follow Craig @snitch9 on Twitter.

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