NEWS
10/02/2011 08:05 EDT | Updated 12/02/2011 05:12 EST

Dunedin goes green as Ireland squad salutes supporters after reaching RWC quarterfinals

DUNEDIN, New Zealand - For a city with such close links to Scotland, Dunedin looked a lot more like Dublin on Sunday as fans partied to celebrate Ireland's progress to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

Green-shirted, green-skirted, green-wigged and green-painted fans packed Otago Stadium to see Ireland overcome an obdurate Italy side 36-6, providing a raucous backdrop of songs, cheers and Mexican waves from before the match until long after the final whistle.

"That was the best yet," Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said. "It was a sea of green everywhere we looked. Our job is to give them something to cheer about. It was exactly like Landsdowne Road or Croke Park.

"In fact I've played in Dublin in the past when the support has not been that good."

The previous three tournament matches in Dunedin — all featuring England — all took place in front of noticeable contingents from both countries. But there was scarcely an Italian supporter to be seen in Sunday's crowd of 28,027.

"The Italy rugby side has incredible support in Italy and it makes a hell of a difference to have our crowd behind us," Italy coach Nick Mallett said. "All our best performances have been at home and in Nelson we were the preferred side against Russia and the United States.

"But it was like playing at Landsdowne Road tonight. I think every New Zealander put their green shirt on tonight because I don't believe they've got enough euros left to come over here."

Ireland's financial woes — recession, harsh cuts to public spending and rising unemployment — could easily have stopped fans from travelling to New Zealand.

But while many Kiwis are supporting Ireland after its earlier win over the host nation's fierce rival Australia, but it was the visiting support most obvious on Sunday.

"Times are different in Ireland, economically," coach Declan Kidney said. "A lot of these people have had to emigrate and they've come down to the southern hemisphere for us. We're just so happy that they're having a good night out."

Dunedin is twinned with Edinburgh and its 19th-century design is based upon the Scottish capital. Even its name purportedly derives from the Edinburgh's Gaelic name.

Bagpipes, whiskey and kilts are common around a city surrounded by Scottish-looking countryside of steep gradients, green hills and bright yellow gorse.

But with Scotland already eliminated and New Zealand safely through, Ireland's players were happy to accept any locals looking for someone to cheer.

"The travelling support, the New Zealanders," O'Driscoll smiled. "We'll welcome anyone who'll put on the green shirt and shout for us."