Being a one-eyed Quins supporter who hates Twickenham Stadium as a venue with a vengeance, I deliberately bought no tickets for the Rugby World Cup on the basis that I would far prefer to watch the unfolding tournament – or such of it as was attractive to me – on the television, free from the crush and inconvenience of travelling in large crowds. I make no apology (at my age) for being on the ‘why bother?’ team in the ongoing Rust debate over whether it is better to attend sporting events in person or watch from afar via my domestic cathode ray tube.
Here’s a snapshot on things so far:
Overall I take my hat off to ITV’s coverage, despite the irritation of having to watch all the commercial breaks which I acknowledge are necessary because they have to pay for it somehow. The only rugby-related ads I’ve enjoyed are the Jack Whitehall ones for Samsung featuring Martin Johnson and Laurence Dallaglio – for any of my readers who haven’t yet seen or ‘registered’ them, here’s a link to an example – SAMSUNG AD
ITV seems to have spared no expense and prepared well (and I can offer no higher praise than that). They’ve cherry-picked, by and large correctly, the best of Britain’s television rugby presenters and pundits from wherever they hail, including from their broadcasting competitors. They’ve also been cute in selecting their overseas ‘celebrity’ contributors, excepting former All Back great (and Quins director) Sean Fitzpatrick who is so Kiwi-centric that his views have to be automatically discounted by 40%.
For what it’s worth, in my view the most authoritative of the bunch is Ben Kay, the former Leicester Tigers and England lock (and 2003 RWC winner), whose analysis of all matters relating to forwards is superb and always worth listening to, especially when given instantly a scrum or lineout has occurred.
Frankly he spots perceptive things that completely pass me by. Whenever he speaks, I listen.
Of the England debacle, the less said the better. I take no particular satisfaction in stating that Harlequins’ Mike Brown was evidently the only member of the squad who was really trying – but then he always does. Chris Robshaw had a poor tournament and to me looked over-trained and lacking in confidence from the get-go. Quite how Danny Care – the one scrum half game-changer in the squad – was not used at least once in the vital first three games is beyond me. In my view, of course, at Number 8, Nick Easter should always have been preferred to the under-baked Ben Morgan (coming back from an horrific leg/ankle break) and, by the time he was called up – to the bench for the Australia game – it was too late for him to have a significant influence. Stuart Lancaster has found out the hard way what happens when you don’t pick at least six Harlequins in every match-day 23.
Yesterday, on what would have been my first wife’s 63rd birthday – she died in 1992 – I drove up to Northamptonshire at the invitation of her sister and husband for my first and only attendance at the 2015 RWC for the Canada v Romania match at what, on the day, was officially called the Leicester City Stadium (it’s actually the King Power Stadium, but the RWC authorities do not allow ‘commercial’ branding at their venues).
My drive up the M1 soon became problematic due to various roadworks and the occasional monsoon downpours that troubled us all day.
After a sausages-and-mash lunch at the farm our party of four rugby stalwarts set off and (to our surprise) on our way to Leicester soon reached a consensus on what the RFU should do in the aftermath of England’s departure, viz. sack the mediocre Lancaster and his entire coaching team immediately … then Ian Ritchie and that completely ineffectual but continual survivor Rob Andrew … and (whatever the price) get in the best possible non-English, hard-nosed ‘winning’ – probably Southern Hemisphere – head coach available in the world for the run-up to 2019.
None of us drank alcohol. I had never planned to do so – nor had one other – because we’d both be driving home afterwards. Meanwhile my host and his pal had both given up the demon drink twenty years ago, the first because it ‘didn’t agree with him’ – (as a farmer) he got fed up rising at 4.30am to begin his day with a hangover – and the other because he had contracted diabetes.
Weight of traffic and the rain-affected country road conditions meant that it took us the best part of an hour to get to the vicinity of the game, where ‘park & ride’ was the order of the day. We then had a false start by managing to go to the ‘wrong’ car park, which would be shutting for the night ten minutes after the projected end of the game, and so had to fight our way around the ring road to the Leicester Race Course version before queuing for the coach to the ground.
Any idea that England’s early exit would spoil the RWC party soon evaporated. There was a ‘family-oriented’ buzzing anticipation outside the stadium and over 27,000 in the crowd – people were there to have a party and the range of supporters, with their different colours, made for a general atmosphere of humorous goodwill.
I loved the newness and amenities of what was really a soccer stadium – oh how great it would be if all rugby Premiership venues were similar! – and even though we were seated in the gods at one end of the ground we had a great view of proceedings.
Of the two teams’ supporters (about 50% of the crowd), I’d estimate that the balance was 65% Canadian and 35% Romanian. For four or five periods of the game, which kicked off at 4.45pm with Wayne Barnes presiding as referee, the sudden but violent rain storms of earlier in the day returned.
Most in our area seemed to be home supporters (many of them not ordinarily rugby fans but there either because they were willing to give the sport a try and/or it was their one opportunity in their home area to participate in the tournament) and the general tone was that everyone was there for the craic, hoping to witness some great and exciting rugby.
Afterwards – and another hour’s journey back to the farm to collect my car – I drove back down the M1 in torrential rain and reached the sanctuary of home at 10.20pm, about eighty minutes after my normal bedtime. It had been a long day.
Note for the record:
After a pretty average first half which ended with the Canadians ahead 15-0 (the Romanian kicker having missed three penalty attempts), the match exploded into life during the second stanza with the Romanians, desperately attempting to win to keep alive their hopes of a group third-place finish in order to qualify automatically for the 2019 RWC, ‘going for broke’.
Their pack gradually gained ascendancy and they finished by scoring 17 points in the last twenty-eight minutes (the coup de grace a penalty kick with just 180 seconds to no-side) not only to prevail, but to so by notching the greatest-ever RWC comeback in history. It was a cracking game that send its spectators home both excited and happy – well, if they were not wearing the red and white of Canada.