Recently, I’ve taken to going on the train to Twickenham but this weekend, and for the others in the Autumn International series, there are train strikes. Twickenham station is always full to bursting but with train strikes looming, I took the decision to drive.
We set off early, knowing that the roads were likely to be totally clogged up. As it turns out, we arrived ridiculously early and so headed into Twickenham itself as the stadium wasn’t open! We went into the best put in town (The Cabbage Patch, incase you were wondering!) and enjoyed a pint. We were so early, we even got a seat too. Incidentally, if you haven’t visited the Cabbage Patch on a match day, then you are severely missing out and I recommend you call in. Busy, yes. Great atmosphere, yes. Nice beer, yes. And it’s run by the amazing Stuart Green who does all he can to make you and your friends feel welcome.
We decided to head into the stadium early. There was filming with Vernon Kay and Anthony Watson in the O2 Blueroom and we really wanted to be part of that.
Now, this is where I hit the only disappointing part of the day. In previous years, myself and my friends have been known to make the journey to Twickenham stadium on match days without a ticket. Not in the hope of getting a ticket, but with the sole aim of meeting up, heading into the Blueroom and enjoying the match day atmosphere. We head through security / bag / body checks, which we have always done without a ticket and then enjoy all that the fanzone has to offer. However, this season, for some inexplicable reason, the security check point, beside the shop, also houses the ticket barriers too. So this tradition is now dead for us, unless the RFU change it back to the old system where the ticket barriers are beside lion and rose gates.
Apart from that, the day was superb. We saw the filming in the O2 Blueroom. Vernon Kay is a wonderful host and clearly has a fun relationship with some of the England rugby players. This was evident in his pre-match interview and games with Anthony Watson and then after the match too when he interviewed Owen Farrell, Jonny May and Man of the Match Mark Wilson.
In the Blueroom, it’s warm, the bar is accessible, there’s a free pint and a pastie for anyone in there who is on an O2 phone. Great value and a must visit if you’re in the fanzone. The toilet queues are even short too, with the ladies being shorter than the men’s. This makes the Blueroom a winner for me hands down.
Into the match itself, it has to be said that the first half was, from my perspective, pretty poor. The rugby was a bit dull and the scoreline reflected that. 6-8 to South Africa at half time- I guess my prediction of 35-27 win was a bit out. However, this proved to be a game of two halves. It felt like we spent more time on our feet in the second half than in our chairs. The rugby came alive and was so exciting. Albeit the scoreline was still small, we finished with a win of 12-11. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric and as loud as I’ve known it. South Africa were a hugely physical side and their defence was immense. The first half score was a reflection that England just couldn’t seem to break through. The second half, England seemed to turn up a notch and they matched the physicality. Good stuff. As the clock was heading towards 80 minutes, Danny Care box kicked the ball out of the pitch, thus giving South Africa the line out. It was a nervy time and England had to play out of their skins to gain possession of the ball and then kick it out after 80 minutes. Heart stopping, but we seemed to have the win. However it became immediately clear that the match wasn’t quite finished. There was an investigation into what has become a ‘controversial’ tackle by Owen Farrell. From my seat in Lower row 19, it seemed that the South African player had led with his head and dipped as Owen went in for the tackle. Both players had rebounded off each other. It was a big hit. Now, I always make the distinction that I have not got the luxury of the ref being on the pitch or the TMO who can retrospectively view an incident from many different angles. The tackle was sent to TMO by the ref. I don’t have a match day ref link so had no idea what question the ref asked the TMO. The whole stadium was silent and on the edge of their seats. After a short amount of time, the ref told Owen (the captain) that the tackle was OK and England had finished the game victorious at 12-11. What a win! So proud of those boys, who dug in. The players’ reactions and that of Eddie Jones showed that this was a much needed and wanted win!
Subsequently, I have seen still photos and opinions splashed all over social media about this tackle and to be frank, it’s been most frustrating. People believe that a photo shows that Owen made no attempt to wrap his arms and that it should have been a yellow card and penalty. All I know is that another photo appeared on Monday showing that he had tried to wrap his arms and since then, all these opinions seem to have died down but with no remorse. It seems that all these people must have had a better view than the TMO and ref. Perhaps they will be called this week to put their boots on and ref next weekend?
Into the Blueroom again after the match and we got to watch the second half on the screens whilst waiting for the players to arrive. I was just as nervy watching it again as I had been in the stadium. Weird, I know, but I’m the same watching the RWC 2003 final in Building Jerusalem! A SA heckler to Owen Farrell was expertly handled by Vernon Kay, who, after 3 shouts of ‘use his arms’ simply asked ‘how many professional rugby matches have you played in my friend’ – Well done Vernon!
This weekend, I head back to Twickenham, having been lucky enough to get a ticket to England v All Blacks. There is no doubt that this will be a hugely physical game. I love that the All Blacks turn up to play for 80 minutes. 2 years ago, when Eddie Jones had been head coach for England for a year, I’d have put good money on England for the win. Now, after a run of slightly poorer results, I’m not so sure. However, I will always back England for the win and on their day, anyone can beat anyone (it’s 2 years today that Ireland beat the All Blacks!).
Having never seen the All Blacks live, I have 2 hopes. 1) that the people inside the stadium don’t try to drown out the Haka with Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – whatever your views on the Haka and whether it should be allowed at Away matches, I’ve never seen it live and am very much looking forward to it. And 2) that it’s a great match.
**Blog written by @valeriebarlow6**