Friday 18th September was a big day in the world of Rugby Union. The 8th installment of the Rugby World Cup was starting on this day. This was a big day for me personally as well as I was going to my first RWC game. When I woke up on Friday, I was up very early in the morning, almost like a child on Christmas Day. I often get excited when going to Twickenham to watch England (or Bath). The atmosphere at Twickenham is just something special and if you could bottle it and sell it, you would be a very rich person.
I was going to the game with a friend, and we had decided long before the start of the tournament that we wanted to guarantee going to at least one game at the RWC. By at least game, I mean one game that is geographically sensible and a match that we both wanted to see. I put in for 9 games when it came time to enter the ballot and got nothing (which on reflection, I wish I’d put in for any ticket to be in the stadium for South Africa v Japan yesterday – hindsight remains 20/20). So the best way we thought to guarantee a ticket for a game we both wanted to go to would be to go via the England Rugby Travel Agent. You pay significantly over the odds for the ticket but it can also include travel or a hotel depending on the package you opt for. Considering they offered a day return coach package for the game at the reasonable price of £280pp (!), we opted for that. The ticket you get in that package would have cost £75, so the rest of the deal cost £205. I resolved it was probably best not to think about that and just enjoy what was going to be an ace day.
The journey up to Twickenham was fairly uneventful aside from one unfortunate incident when we made a stop at a service station. I didn’t see what occurred but when leaving the station, there was an older woman sat in a chair, bleeding from her nose (I think) and a significant pool of blood on the floor. It turns out she had gone to stand up on her crutches, slipped and fell face first onto the concrete. She was being well tended to and am ambulance was being called as I left. I didn’t do anything but at the point I arrived, there was nothing to be done. We pulled onto the A316 and made our approach to Twickenham when we started to see coaches parked on the sides of the road. We were yet to see the stadium and I found myself wondering if this was going to be the coach park. I seem to recall on previous visits there were coaches parked by the west stand, so to see them here surprised me. We drove further down the A316 until we could see Twickenham. It was at this point that we turned around and drove nearly 2 miles back down the road where the coach parked. I will admit, having paid so much for the package, I was a bit miffed that the coach had parked so far away from the stadium.
We arrived just before 5pm and after the walk to get back close to the stadium, it was too early to be in the stadium. So in order to avoid paying stadium prices for beer, the next location was a nearby off licence for a few drinks (and a samosa) before heading into the ground. The atmosphere already was buzzing and I was quite surprised seeing fans of many different nations walking towards the ground. After a few cans of Lech (free plug), we headed into the stadium in order to take our place for the opening ceremony and the game. My seat was in the west stand, but very close to the corner of the north stand. As a result, we had a rear view of the opening ceremony which looked like it was going to be quite good. There was a giant, old school looking rugby ball sticking out the middle of the pitch with raised turf all around it. All in all, I would have to say for the time allowed, I think the opening ceremony was as good as it could have been. There was a serious moment of awkwardness before the ceremony started. Sat in the row in front of me, 2 seats to my right was a black man wearing what looked to be an old Fiji shirt (white jersey with 2 thin blue hoops going round). The people next to us for reasons unknown had a Fiji flag in its wrapping, and got the guys attention and gave him the flag, thinking he was a Fiji fan. After looking confused for a bit, one of the party turned to me and said “I hope he is from Fiji, otherwise this gesture could be considered casual racism”. Sure enough, the white shirt the guy was wearing was an RAF rugby shirt, and the guy sounded as though he was from the Birmingham area (I think) with no links to Fiji whatsoever. The party who handed the guy the flag all looked terribly embarrassed at this point but the guy laughed it off and made jokes about it throughout the match. Very awkward indeed, but it really could have been a lot worse!
The game itself was very enjoyable at times, and very frustrating at other times. We played well in the first half with a few errors creeping in, but we had two tries on the board and seemed as though if we continued to build, a bonus point try would be coming soon. The second half was a tougher watch from an England perspective as we started to struggle to build a platform. This was noticed by the block next to ours, full of French people who started singing songs about France and cheering on Fiji. The game turned back in England’s favour after the replacements came on, and England got their bonus point try, although it came right at the very end of the gamer. It was not the best England performance you will ever see, but if the target objective was to come away from this game unscathed injury wise and get 5 points, then job done. Mike Brown was definitely deserving of his MOTM nod.
The game finished just before 10pm and we had just over an hour to get back to the coach. Instead of messing around, we headed straight back there (via a food stand for a bottle of water). We arrived back at the coach for 10.35pm and relaxed a bit then, knowing we had made good time. Unfortunately, even though we were due to leave at 11pm, we didn’t. People arrived back at the coach late and held us up. On reflection, I was annoyed, but even though we left at 11.30pm, we still got back to Portsmouth nearly 30mins earlier than we were scheduled to, which is nice.
And so that is the opening day of the Rugby World Cup from where I was sitting. It was a great day out. I’m now going to be looking forward to more rugby as it comes on. The RWC takes a two day break now, but there are 3 games on Wednesday, with Scotland and Australia in action for the first time. I remain hopeful there will be more magic like we witnessed on Saturday with Japan upsetting the Springboks. What a game that was and what a tournament we have had so far. Hopefully, it will only get better,