As mentioned, the main reason why I went to England was to watch the biggest game of the Rugby World Cup group stages: England-Australia. If Australia wins, it will send a country and “inventors of the sport (like cricket and “football”)” in tatters. If England wins, their World Cup dreams are alive. Here is a running diary from today’s game.
12:55-4:15 pm Before and after visiting the Borough Market, fans from both country were coming out of the woodwork sporting their country’s jersey. England in the all-whites. Australia in their gold and hints of green. At the same time, Premier League soccer is going on with Chelsea-Southampton not too far from the Earl’s Court station that’s near my hotel.
4:35 pm For almost a half-an-hour, their were loads of trains to Fulham Broadway via Wimbledon to help the soccer fans and leave us rugby fans behind. Finally, at this time, we got our train to take us to Richmond!
4:41 pm For the first of multiple times, the train operator kept stating “all trains to Jersusalem” to help us fans get to the stadium. This is based on the hymn “Jerusalem” that England have taken ownership and bellow like no one’s business during rugby games. Think of “Jerusalem” as England’s “God Bless America”. Both songs were suggested as national anthems because they are much better for music-based reasons, both songs have an immense amount of religious connotations and both songs make you think that the nation singing it are puffing their chest out a little too much.
4:47 pm The train operator also does his best to suggest ENGLAND fans for making room for other passengers in the crowded train. Everyone laughs with everyone sarcastically thinking all Australian fans are excused from such exercises.
5:18 pm Once I got to the Richmond Station, I tried to find the nearest pub for one pint. At the Old Ship in Richmond, I was quite surprised that non-English beers Peroni and Kronenberg have been the most popular beers ordered. I asked for the local beer and ended up getting the Rugby Twickers. Honestly, that, along with Badger that I got from Big Ben tasted horribly skunky and has led me to not trusting English Ales. Here’s hoping third time’s a charm on Sunday’s Fulham-Charlton game.
5:39 pm After leaving the pub, I ended getting lost at Richmond Green. Clearly, I am doing a terrible job following maps and rugby crowds during that time. Fortunately, there was a group that I found but they all helped my get to fanzone. I was okay with that because that area was located in Old Deer Park. I was okay with that because all I needed to do was take a straight line from Twickenham Road to walk of to Rugby Road to get to the Stadium.
6:20 pm After a very long, but very simple walking path, I finally made it to “headquarters”. Along with Craven Cottage yesterday, I find it amazing that such stadiums were built right next to small looking neighborhoods. I can’t help but imagine if the next Redskins stadium were built next to Old Towne Gaithersburg or next to Dallas Ave in Silver Spring. It might as well be like that for the feeling of coziness yet utter shock that such world class events can be staged in such a strange part of the city.
6:35 pm Once I check my ticket, I try to get the best view possible of seeing both England and Australia team’s arrive from the team bus. To no surprise, the crowd was packed, no different for how Penn State crowds would be when the team arrived from Porter Road. England comes out first with multiple “Swing Low Sweet Chariots” bellowed by the tens of thousands. Australia come out next and enough away support was there to give the same loud response.
7:12 pm After getting a pizza and Bulmers cider, I get to my seat. The view is absolutely perfect as it is the equivalent of sitting by the 30 yard line of a football game. The seat is certainly a nosebleed, but not tall enough to not recognize how huge even the backs look (equivalent of skills players for football). The likes of fly-half Owen Farrell and fullback Mike Brown definitely look over 200 pounds and are much bigger than what they look like on TV/online.
There were lots of fascinating things about the experience to get inside Twickenham. First, there was a fan zone where you can loiter but also grab some food outside the stadium once you scan your ticket. This allowed the fans to walk around and be able to not feel crowded at any point of getting towards their seats. However, that could be because the aisles were extremely small and had structural columns blocking people’s path. If there were anything for sale inside the stadium, it was just Heineken….and more Heineken…and more Heineken. I’m looking forward to my country taking this approach and having nothing but Natty Light for sale inside Nationals Park someday. I’m quite sure that will go over well.
7:57 pm After loads of anticipation, the game is moments away from kickoff. There are two true England fans that kept giving me crap that I was American, but there was a group of three that were happy to see another neutral at the game. Those guys have been to a 100-meter final in the London Olympics, a soccer world cup game and will be at Arsenal-Manchester United tomorrow.
8:02 pm Farrell punts the ball to Australia and we are underway.
8:03 pm While England have possession of the ball for the first time of the game, Michael Hooper gives Farrell a jarring tackle that loosens the ball from his grip and in to touch. England get a scrum, but the first of a reoccurring theme begins.
8:05-8:09 pm Next up, Bernard Foley and his Australian team mates are near England’s try line. He gives Mike Brown a clever little squib kick that has him place his foot out of bounds when he catches it. Lineout to Australia meters away from scoring. Brown would go on to make a big tackle to force a knock-on, but moments later, England are caught tackling offsides. Penalty to Australia. Captain Stephen Moore decides to try a penalty conversion over the posts. Foley converts. 3-0 Australia.
8:21 pm Another smart kick by Foley leads to Brown not being able to catch the ball and let it trickle forwards for a knock-on. All game long Australia made all the the accurate kicks that challenged England in putting them into pressured situations. England did not even come close to doing that: missing it into touch and handing Australia line drive kicks that allowed them to run into open space.
8:23 pm That knock on by Brown allowed Australia to patiently play with the ball in hand until Sekope Kepu of all people (because props, rugby’s linemen, shouldn’t know how to play with the ball with such skillful touch) off-loaded to Foley for the first try of the game. Add the conversion, and you got 10-0 Australia.
8:28 pm England get on the board with a scrum penalty to make it 10-3, but Australia do it again. Just as England start getting confidence, David Pocock jackals like that jackal he is: forcing turnover ball legally by standing over the tackled player and ripping the ball out of his hands. It leads to Australia kicking it out of their own territory and then Brown giving one of Englands zillions of bad kicks that leads to advantageous Australia possession.
8:39 pm Try time again for Australia. The Australian backs create a massive hole in the defense and work it back inside thanks to great passing by Will Genia and replacement Kurtley Beale, leaving Foley wide open and untouched for the score just before halftime. 17-3 Australia.
9:09 pm The second half begins, but Australia start winning scrum penalties themselves. Throughout the week, England seamed to be getting positive news that Romain Poite was going to referee tonight’s game. He is one of the biggest policemen of the scrum and the man responsible for rightfully penalizing Australia time and again for collapsed or disorganized scrummaging in the deciding Lions tour of 2013. However, Australia called out prop forward Joe Marler via war of words that he doesn’t come in straight when engaging in scrum battles. Surely enough, Marler was called out on this one and Australia begin to build momentum on winning such set pieces. Marler is now forced to be replaced by Mako Vunipola to avoid being sin-binned for repeat offenses. Foley converts to make it 20-3 Australia.
9:13 pm Prince Harry is shown in the jumbotron rooting for England as the home team start to play the creative rugby they have been developing the last couple of years. Replacement George Ford takes over the number 10 role with Farrell moved to inside-center and really expands the attacking game with smart and quick thinking passes. Pressure builds as England convert and Australian penalty to make it 20-6.
9:19 pm England finally find some open space with Anthony Watson scoring in the corner to make it 20-10. Game on!
9:30 pm Another penalty is committed by Australia and Farrell’s conversion makes it 20-13. All the momentum has gone England’s way. However, out goes Brad Barritt and in comes Rugby Union newbie Sam Burgess in the 66th minute. The crowd gets to be the loudest it’s ever been, hoping the huge risk becomes a huge reward.
9:36 pm England continue to build pressure as they create turnover ball themselves for the first time after Australia get into England territory. However, Watson decides after receiving the ball to softly kick the ball into touch. Australia now have the ball back for a lineout still in the same region.
9:41 pm By far, this leads to the pivotal play of the game. As Australia move the ball around for open space, a huge whistle was blown by Poite and the game is stopped for a Television Match Official (TMO) replay. On the jumbotron, it looked at first as if Burgess couldn’t stop getting the rugby league out of his system and tackled Michael Hooper around the neck in a clothesline fashion. Instead, the replay was for the always high risk-high reward tackling of Owen Farrell who used his shoulders only while tackling Matt Giteau without the Australian ever receiving the ball. For the dangerous and cynical tackle, Farrell is given a yellow card. Considering it’s the 71st minute, England play with 14 men vs Australia’s 15 the rest of the game.
9:42 pm Foley converts Farrell’s violence with a penalty conversion to make it 23-13. Australian fans begin belting out “Waltzing Matilda” every England player’s self-esteem dies a painful death. A knock on leads to an Australian scrum.
9:43 pm Then, replacement Kieran Brookes loses his grip and collapses the Australia’s scrum and gives away another advantageous penalty. Easy conversion for Foley from dead center. 26-13 Australia. England fans leave for the exits before the ball was even kicked through the posts and the fans simply stop cheering any positive contribution. This is definitely not like American sports where someone amongst a giant crowd squeeks a cheer here or there during a blowout loss.
9:49 pm Millions of mistakes by England later, Australia find open space and Giteau is away for an easy try. Game, Set, Match! 33-13 Australia.
It’s really hard to put into words the reactions of the crowd. Some share my opinion that even though England, the first host nation and former champions to be knocked out of the group stages of a Rugby World Cup, were always given the short end of the straw by having to face two of the five best nations in the world to get through the quarterfinals. Others find it inexcusable that England should fall short in anything, no matter the challenge. Reports have since come out the England head coach Stuart Lancaster is debating about his resignation from his job.
It goes to show how, despite such a close rugby game, all it takes is the little details. Joe Paterno said it best in American Football that taking care of the little things lets everything else follow in a positive direction. The exact same thing happens in rugby except it is magnified almost ten fold more than any other sport. Winning collisions and clearing out players that want to steal the ball away from you matter. Having players that know how to steal the ball legally matters. Winning your scrums and lineouts and being safe with the ball in hand matters. The players don’t move fast, but the best ones sure do have the quickest brains in such a violent sport. England, and their lack of veteran leadership and experience still have a lot of work to do. Australia have developed it in less than a years time under Michael Cheika.
What a game and what a sport.