Autumn Internationals Rugby: England v South Africa

Since leaving uni, my flatmate Jon and I, despite just entering into our fourth 081year of living together, have spent less and less time together. What with us working polar opposite hours at our respective places of work, and then with me staying at Ben’s a few nights every now and then, we can go for up to a week without seeing each other. I do miss spending time with him like we used to, and when we do see each other our usual catch up is something along the lines of ‘How was work?’ ‘What are you up to this evening?’, and ‘Can you get some more milk on the way home?’ This needed remedying. Fortunately, the answer was on hand with the Rugby Autumn internationals at Twickenham.

I confess, growing up I was more of a football fan than a rugby fan. I’d watch the World Cup every four years, and started playing football in my free lessons with the guys in sixth form, going on to play for the women’s team at uni. Rugby and I never really crossed paths until recently, when I became aware of it through friends’ interest. So when Jon invited me along with him to watch England v South Africa, I decided to take him up on it and discover once and for all what all the fuss was about.

055Twickenham is considered the home of English rugby, and the Autumn Internationals are a chance for the teams to flex their muscles and test each other’s strength before the World Cup next year. England had lost to New Zealand the week before by only three points, so everyone was keen for a win. I was also keen to watch professional rugby, as my only previous experience of a stadium game was watching the varsity game at uni (which turned into a punch up on the sidelines by pissed up supporters where someone got knocked out…)

064Jon and I caught a train in three hours before the match started, which I thought was entirely excessive until I saw the amount of crowding on the platform at Clapham Junction. We were jammed into the train carriages like sardines, but everyone was in a cheerful mood and there were quite a few laughs, despite being squashed against complete strangers more intimately than I would be with some of my closest friends!

057Once we alighted at Twickenham station, Jon and I wandered down to the stadium. Hosting up to 82,000 people, Twickers is apparently the largest dedicated rugby union venue in the world, and the second largest stadium in the UK after Wembley. Jon seems to see it as practically his second home these days! We managed to arrive at the side of the stadium in time to see the England team arrive in their black, rose-adorned coach. They all got off to walk inside, to the cheers and applause of their supporters. We then by chance ended up back round there again as the South Africans – or ‘Boks’ – arrived, to more cheers and applause.

From the outside, the stadium is a little ugly and concrete-heavy. However, on the inside it was another story. When we walked into our section of the grounds and saw into the centre of the stadium for the first time, I stopped and went “Wow”.

072It’s a spectacular view. The slope of the stands, the layout of the pitch, the light striking through the open roof, it was all properly impressive. I was stunned, to be honest. And it made for all the more impressive sight once the stands filled up and the teams came jogging onto the pitch. The country’s flags unfurled on the pitch, and a choir lined up with the official singer of the national anthem, Laura Wright. It was chucking it down by this point, and Jon didn’t think she looked best impressed at getting her dress wet, but once she started to sing all was forgiven. She has a beautiful voice, not to mention an enviable record of marathons under her belt, along with rugby and cycling on the side. It was a spooky experience to hear the whole stadium belting out ‘God Save the Queen’. Even as a first time visitor, I got quite swept up in the emotion of the moment. Although I had been dreading endless rounds of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, I found myself joining in every time it echoed round the stadium, and it sounded truly beautiful, even on repeat.

099The match itself was a frustrating one. England were the poorer team throughout, with far too many dropped balls or intercepted passes on their side. Although they weren’t all out fantastic (in football terms, they were no Germany!), South Africa took full advantage of England’s weaknesses, and that was all they needed to do. At the end of the first half we were 20-6 down, and things looked bleak. However, through the rain emerged this:

115This double rainbow (see the second one on the far left?) seemed to be a good omen for England, as they came back into the second half revitalised. It was like they’d eaten their Weetabix and knocked back a can of Red Bull, and they scored two tries in quick succession. We were all up on our feet, cheering and applauding, but sadly it was not to last. By the end of the match, despite a last minute catch up by England, the final score was 31-28 to South Africa.

071   089However, despite the disappointing result, I had a great time at Twickers. It was great to spend some quality time with Jon in such a fun and friendly atmosphere, to learn a bit more about rugby and to actually get quite involved in the game. I found myself leaning forward on the edge of my seat, shouting for England, then glancing up at the clock and suddenly wondering where the time had gone.

075One of the things that really won me round and impressed me about rugby was the atmosphere, at the stadium and on the train. It was buzzing, and everyone was in a good mood. Even on the train we were laughing and joking, despite it being so crowded. I’ve been to a few football matches and it’s far less friendly: a tenser undertone, an angrier vibe. The sheer lack of police presence at Twickers surprised me, being so used to seeing them at football. But it’s testament to how well-behaved rugby supporters generally are. I get the impression that, where there is rugby-related trouble, it happens out of the grounds, in the pubs and clubs after all is said and done and one too many pints of beer have been sunk. But in the stadium itself it was buzzy and friendly. They even had a live band perform at the close of play, belting out some awesome tunes for us all to sing along to, festival-style (Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll and The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles were particular highlights!)

121So if you’re looking for a sporty day out, look no further than a day at the rugby. The tickets aren’t cheap, but it’s a day out suitable for anyone: families, couples and friends. You’ll find a buzzing atmosphere, welcoming staff and supporters, and even if you can’t get on board with the sport itself, you can spend a couple of hours staring at thirty odd burly rugby players. Sounds like a winner all round to me!

069For more info on the Autumn Internationals, click here

To have a look at Jon’s blog, which covers the more technical, sporting aspect of the day in more detail, click here (You can also read this review in the Independent’s online column)

For tickets to the remaining Autumn Internationals, click here

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