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Ireland's Donnacha Ryan grateful for family at RWC

Updated: September 29, 2011, 01:21

DUNEDIN, New Zealand(AP) When the Rugby World Cup is as far away from home as it's possible to get, it's good to have some family around.

Ireland forward Donnacha Ryan made his tournament debut in last weekend's Pool C win over Russia, with his parents in the crowd to see him make only his third international start in the green shirt.

It's a lot easier to share the occasion when your family is not 12 time zones and more than 18,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) away, but Ryan says having them around also lets him appreciate the excitement of a World Cup that many players find themselves isolated from.

"My mum's gone home,'' Ryan said. "Budgetary constraints have forced her home, so my father's obviously not flavor of the month. She's going back to work, but my dad will hopefully come back over again later on for a couple of days.

"It's great having them around. It's very, very good to meet them after the game. It gets you out of the hotel and gives you a few stories from ground level about what's happening with the supporters.''

Those supporters have been a feature of Ireland's World Cup campaign, which has so far featured a famous victory over Tri-Nations champion Australia among three straight wins.

One more victory on Sunday against Italy, and the traveling supporters - the "Blarney Army'' as they have been dubbed by some local media - will have a quarterfinal spot to celebrate.

"We went out after the Russia game just to meet some of the supporters and friends,'' Ryan smiled. "To see people playing piano in the street and singing songs from home is amazing. I'm probably incriminating myself here, but I was in a pub for an hour - no more - and it was as if they'd uprooted a pub from Dublin and brought it here.

"Unfortunately I think the bar ran out of drink. I had nothing to do with that. They didn't legislate for the amount of Irish lads brought over to Rotorua.''

And the locals have scarcely been less supportive, although that's perhaps predictable given New Zealanders' glee at seeing near neighbor Australia embarrassed by the Irish.

Although Dunedin - the venue for Sunday's final Pool C match - has strong links to Scotland stretching back to the 19th century, locals have greeted the Irish players warmly.

"There were 35 8- to 10-year-olds and they were singing songs at the airport,'' Ryan said. "It was great to see the likes of Brian O'Driscoll taking video of these kids singing songs.''

Ryan said he hoped to visit the local Cadbury's chocolate factory while in town, but for now the players are finding other ways to pass the time.

"We have the casino here at the team hotel, which has been bit of a distraction for a few lads, and I'm a guilty party unfortunately,'' Ryan said. "I've tried a few slot machines but sadly the only machine I'm winning any money out of is the ATM machine.

"When you watch films like 'The Hangover' and '21,' you think you can count cards, but it doesn't happen. Fifty-two is what I understand is in a pack and that's the only number I know.''

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