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People flock for Chicago rugby experience

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 6/11/2016 Angelo Risso

Pubs and deep-dish pizza joints around Chicago were packed to the brim on Saturday as Kiwis, Irishmen and nosy Nellies alike revelled before Saturday's Test.

More than 62,000 people crammed into the iconic Soldier Field on a sunny autumn afternoon and were treated to a belter, as the Irish secured a maiden 40-29 Test win over the All Blacks.

Rugby fans travelled from all over the globe to watch the game, just the second ever played by the all-conquering Kiwis on US soil.

Aucklander and Eden Park regular Chris Chandler, 42, used a business trip Stateside as an excuse to drop into the Windy City for the match.

And his arrival couldn't have come at a better time, with the local Chicago Cubs parading their baseball World Series title to an adoring crowd of millions on Friday.

"I just thought it'd be a good opportunity to network with a bunch of Kiwis," Mr Chandler said.

Compatriot and cabinet-maker David Lloyd, 44, had a far shorter journey to make for the match, having moved to San Francisco 20 years ago.

He and US-based friends met in Chicago to toast days gone by on the rugby-mad Shaky Isles, as they struggle to keep up-to-date with Super Rugby action.

"There's a group of Kiwis here, we're all mates and came two years ago," Mr Lloyd said.

"One guy's from Florida, one from Seattle, me from San Francisco, another from NYC, so we come from all corners."

But not everyone at Soldier Field was supporting the Kiwis, with an estimated 5000 Irishmen hopping across the pond for the game.

Combined with the local Irish immigrant crowd, the stadium and surrounding streets were turned emerald green for the day.

"It's just a trip me and my dad decided to do," Dublin 29-year-old Niamh McCarroll said.

Typically the centre of attention wherever they go, the All Blacks have found themselves in the shade this week as baseball fever gripped Chicago.

Yet local resident Tim O'Day, 57, said he just had to see what all the fuss was about.

"I generally understand it, I wouldn't say I'm an expert," Mr O'Day said.

"I've seen it a few times and enjoyed it."

All Blacks skipper Kieran Read also said after the Test that his side had thoroughly enjoyed their experience in Chicago, despite the loss.

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