Every living, breathing Irish man and woman seemed either glued to the television set last Sunday, or present in the Millennium Stadium in Wales for the big clash of Ireland and France in the Rugby World Cup.

It was estimated there were 80,000 Irish in Cardiff for the game. Ireland won a famous victory against a team that had often been their bogeyman.

In the process they showed fire and heart totally suited for a game that can sometimes resemble a football field filled with WWE wrestlers with an oval ball thrown in.

But there is far more than brute strength in rugby. The passing interchanges and long and accurate kicking are as skilful as in any major sport.

What may occasionally look like mayhem to the outsider is actually carefully crafted play with scoring tries the equivalent of touchdowns as the ultimate objective.

Indeed, American football is the closest analogy except no one wears any body armor. Like the ancient Celts who charged into battle naked with fearful war whoops, players take their lives into their hands and rush unprotected headlong into tackles, rucks and mauls in pursuit of the oval ball.

Given that many players, especially those who make up the forwards are usually very large and in many cases, very tall men, the physical impact can be shattering, leading me to believe that like American football, some protective measures need to be imposed especially as players get bigger and harder to stop.

Later that evening the same number of people tuned in to watch Ireland's soccer team fail narrowly to win a place in the European Championship to be held next summer in France, but they can still qualify by winning a play off.

The contrast between the two games was striking. Soccer is elegance personified, fast, controlled and dazzling at times.

Yet I feel it does not match the Irish character as much as rugby.

Rugby has inched closer to Gaelic games and soccer as Ireland's most popular sport. There were 89,000 fans at one of the Irish Rugby World Cup games, almost all Irish. It is gathering that sort of following.

When I was growing up in Ireland rugby was the toff's sport played by Protestant kids and upper class schools like Blackrock and Belvedere.

Us Christian Brothers were limited to Gaelic games, not even soccer as there was a ridiculous ban against playing a British game.

Rugby has come a long way, mostly in Munster were Limerick had become the citadel of the sport. Average kids from every background now get to play.

It is easy to see why rugby is gaining in popularity. It suits the Celtic fire and passion much more than soccer which is a cool, control- filled game.

As Ireland proved against France, the Irish spirit is to drive all before them, “Fagh an Bhealach” or “Out of My Way” as the old Fenian nostrum has it.

The Irish did that despite losing two of their best players in the process, out-half Jonny Sexton and captain Paul O’Connell.

A leader, a warrior, a legend and a gentleman ���� Oh captain, my captain! #ThanksPaulie pic.twitter.com/JVowYglYoS

— Kelly Montgomery (@kellyxmonty) October 14, 2015
The Rugby World Cup might as well be taking place in an alternative universe as far as Americans are concerned. It is a sport which the U.S. are minnows, fodder for the great teams like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa as well as Ireland.

But there has been one very spectacular upset, perhaps the greatest in the history of all sports.

The Japanese team were 300/1 underdogs – yes, you read that correctly -- against former World Cup winners South Africa. Incredibly the Japanese won with a last second try to create arguably the biggest upset in all of sport.

Oh, did I mention that England the hosts were hustled out of the championship in the first round after losing to Australia and Wales, an incredible blow to the pride of the country which invented rugby?

There will be a massive Irish crowd again in Cardiff this Sunday when Ireland play Argentina for a semifinal spot. Ireland will be hot favorites to succeed. Catch the game if you can.

Here are the highlights from the Ireland v France match:

Fearless Ian Madigan played a blinder having replaced Johnny Sexton as number 10 against France.Irish Voice