As a rule in recent years I’ve managed to bag myself a ticket for a couple of Autumn International games, and was lucky enough to be at Twickenham on December 1st 2012 when England beat the mighty All Blacks. Now that was an afternoon I’ll never forget!
Autumn 2014, well more specifically November had 5 Saturdays which for me meant 5 international games! Rather than write match reports for each of them I’m going to write a little about the day each time; try to give a flavour of things.
It takes a bit of forward planning to get 5 games sorted; especially when 2 of them are in a different country – my list of games went like:
Australia v Barbarians Twickenham
England v New Zealand Twickenham
France v Australia Stade De France
Wales v New Zealand Millennium Stadium
England v Australia Twickenham
I must confess I’m still pinching myself! I saw some wonderful rugby and met some lovely people. So to start with the Champagne Rugby game. I’ve been to most of the Barbarians games in recent years and been a little disappointed as they’ve been a bit disorganised and not too exciting.
November 1st saw all that change as the Ba Baa’s went back to the way we expect to see them play. There were some big names amongst the invitation team including All Black Colin Slade playing at fly half, Alastair Kellock the Scottish international taking the captains’ arm band and wearing the no 11 shirt one very well known and popular winger – Nick Cummins – the Honey Badger.
The game was shout out loud exciting; I’d taken advantage of good old Groupon so was largely sitting amongst Twickers virgins; to a man/lady there was total delight at the fare on show. I’ll never forget the penalty taken by the Ba Baa’s on the Australian line, the ball was kicked high over the head by Tomas Cubelli (I think) and would have been a wonderful try if 2 men hadn’t gone for the same ball.
A sign that both teams were intent on winning came when Colin Slade kicked a huge penalty from the halfway line; labelling me a liar after I’d told my neighbour the Ba Baa’s never kick at goal. The result was Bararians 36 Australia 40 and included a great try for the Honey Badger against his country. The whole stadium went crazy when he scored!
The atmosphere both in and around the stadium was great, there seemed to be a fair few children and certainly everyone I was sat amongst stayed in their seats and watched the game; you can probably sense a moan coming later.
Next up was another visit to Twickenham – this time with my younger brother to watch the mighty All Blacks; my tickets had gone awry thanks to the Post Office, it was a bit of a blow to have to pay another £10 per ticket to have them re-printed, but, hey ho.
The teams emerged and after the national anthems the All Blacks set up for the Haka; it’s become a tradition at Twickenham to sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot over the top of the Haka and I admit I joined in; based on my later experience I won’t be doing so again.
England went ahead after the perfect start as Jonny May showed what he can do with ball in hand, he ran in a wonderful try right in front of where we were sitting; most definitely one of my favourite moments in November.
England maintained their lead until the break; but were outplayed in the second half as Richie McCaw and Charlie Faumuina scored. A missed kick to touch from Owen Farrell early in the half saw England play in their own half for a good 25 minutes.
England pulled back to see the scores finish England 21 New Zealand 24 – the atmosphere in teh stadium wasn’t so good this time. Richie McCaw was booed when he was named Man of The Match. Not in the spirit of the game of rugby at all.
People were out of their seats a lot of the time, buying beer in general. If I have a ticket to see 80 minutes of rugby want to see 8 minutes unless I have some sort of dire emergency I won’t miss a second. I just don’t get it, some miss 20 minutes of the game purely to but alcohol. They also disturb the others sitting around them.
It poured with rain as we left the stadium I got fairly soaked which is fair enough; having to walk through a virtual pond to get to the train not so fair enough. With the World Cup coming up that really needs to get sorted!
Next stop was Paris, so convenient having a daughter who lives there, I’ve visited 5 times so far and been to the rugby 3 times. Funnily enough I’m booked to go in February at 6 Nations time, not sure how that happened?
This time I was there to see France play Australia; I’d bought tickets for Alex and her boyfriend. It didn’t bode well when Alex read her book as we watched England play that afternoon! But the atmosphere at The Stade is always great and she joined in waving her flag and watching the game, shouting at the right time. It was funny when she said ‘aren’t they supposed to take so many tackles then hand the ball over?’ Wrong code!
The French national anthem is always rousing to hear and doubly so on home territory; the atmosphere was great, there was a Mexican Wave but only when there was a break in play. Everyone stayed in their seat and watched the game; there was silence for the kicker and applause for good play.
The French looked a good unit; they seemed to have fund a decent fly half in Camille Lopez. they held on to win in spite of being down to 14 men for 10 minutes at the end of the game. It seems I’m going to have to buy at least 3 tickets every time I go in future. Not a bad match for your first!
In spite of being an Essex girl born and bred I’m a Welsh RU Gold member; to date the Millennium is my favourite place to watch international rugby. And this November didn’t change my mind. I had lunch with other members at Sophia Gardens before the game. And yes, I did realise the rugby wasn’t being played there as one cheeky chappy suggested.
The singing! Oh my it’s amazing! If you’ve never been to a game and get an opportunity you must go. The collection of Welsh Male Voice Choirs on the pitch starts an atmosphere that hasn’t been matched for me. I belted out Delilah and Bread of Heaven at the top of my voice with the rest of the crowd; and even hummed along to the anthem.
The Haka was totally respected and it was great to fully experience it; to hear as well as see what was happening. I think that habit of singing over the top at Twickenham is a real shame. It denies those watching the opportunity to experience fully something wonderful.
The game was a good one, Wales were on top for 60 minutes; in particular they nullified the All Black’s midfield, we hardly knew Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith were on the pitch. However the sign of a champion team is that they can come from behind.
Hugely disappointing as the score finished on Wales 16 New Zealand 34 a scoreline which really wasn’t a good representation of the game. Another station moan at this point; I needed to get to Newport and for some reason we were kept standing for ages as people travelling further afield were given priority. But, no ponds so at least I had dry feet!
My rugby fest finished where I started at Twickenham to watch Australia; this time against England. There’d been a lot of disquiet about some of the choices made by Stuart Lancaster, most of all by his pick in the centres.
With 3 exciting centres available in Johnathan Joseph, Kyle Eastmond and Luther Burrell, the choice was Billy Twelvetrees at 12 and Brad Barritt at 13. Whilst Barritt is a great defensive centre and iterally threw his all at the game, his face especially, for me playing 36 was and still is in spite of the victory a disappointment. I hope we see changes for the 6 Nations.
With a sparkling set of backs facing them and a slightly suspect fact, England played the game they needed to win the game. The score finished on England 26 Australia 17.
George Ford played well at Fly Half and will hopefully be handed the shirt in February. As a Saracens fan I believe Owen Farrell’s England career may well have been damaged this Autumn; he’d had virtually no game time in the build up and really didn’t look fit.
I was sat amongst fellow club rugby fans who like me wanted to watch 80 minutes of rugby, lots of people around us didn’t seem too bothered. As they got up time and again during the game, it’s so incredibly annoying when you want to see every moment.
So, to sum up my November; I thoroughly enjoyed every game I saw and feel privileged to have been able to see so much live international rugby. The Millennium again topped my list for the best experience, followed by the Stade De France. I love Twickenham and I love watching my country play, but some of the behaviour of the crowd is regrettable. I’d make a plea, by all means enjoy a sociable day out, but try and watch the rugby and remember the values of our great game.