Wembley 1 Saracens & Leicester 0

Saturday September 15,2012

Saracens  v Leicester Tigers

@Wembley Stadium : k.o. 15.30

Aviva Premiership : Round 3

Block 207: Row 11: Seat 129: £22.00

 

Saracens…………..9

Leicester Tigers…..9

 

The Game

 

Watching Saracens this season just play their home games will be a rugby ground-hoppers delight. Today’s was their second home game of the season, but they have yet to play at Vicarage Road. They kicked off their season a fortnight ago with a “home” fixture against London Irish at Twickenham, fitted in a road trip to play Sale, and now find themselves playing another “home” fixture against Leicester Tigers at Wembley Stadium.

To be fair to Sarries Wembley has been a regular port of call for them for several years. Today’s was their ninth such visit, the  crowd was a shade over 41,000, which with the exception of the record-breaking attendance against Harlequins last spring (83,761, since you asked!), is about par for the course. To judge by the replica shirts and the flags, Leicester had brought a fair-sized contingent with them from the East Midlands, but clearly Sarries had most of the support. What proportion of that will bother to turn out when next they play at what is probably the ugliest ground in the Premiership is a guess, but to judge from past experiences, it will be small.

Judging from the extensive coverage given to it in the match programme (£5, rather than the usual £3 – Wembley inflation?) Copthall, or to give it its proper name, AllianzPark can’t be built soon enough. But the first league game there isn’t scheduled until February.

 

Access/Parking

 

Yes you can drive to Wembley, and yes you can park alongside the stadium. This privilege will probably set you back £10 at least, and you still have to brave the traffic trying to negotiate inadequate approach roads.

The tube offered a cheaper and hopefully less stressful ride. There were plenty of empty seats in the Jubilee Line train I took to WembleyPark, and though there were queues to get into the station afterwards they were moving, and I even managed to bag a seat on the return journey.

I left my seat in the Stadium at about 5.25, and an hour later was at my next destination, Embankment tube station.

 

Tickets/View/Comfort

 

The tickets were a very reasonable £22, and got me a comfortable padded seat in the 2nd tier. It was a bright sunny day, so I got a sun-tan thrown in.

To dwell on the obvious for a moment. Wembley is a big stadium. On my ticket, the entrance was given as Club Wembley and the block as 207. Unfortunately, once inside I turned right instead of left and so had a long walk and a long look at the various ways Wembley has thought up to part punters from their money. It reminded me of an airport. Ostensibly, you are there to do something other than shop, but while you have free time why not spend some money. And if you should venture out to your seat too early you will be subjected to the deafening sound of what ever pop sensation Saracens have clearly deemed mandatory at these affairs.

 

Catering

 

My enforced walking tour inside Wembley unearthed a wide variety of food and drinks outlets.

And although the ticket prices were designed to attract a larger and wider audience there were no such concession to the price of refreshments. However, there were plenty of outlets and plenty of choice.

 

Toilets

 

As someone old enough to remember the old “Venue of Legends”, and its infamous lack of toilets, let us just say this is no longer a problem.

Indeed, I took a pre-game pee and had the toilet to myself.

 

Not forgetting the game itself….

 

Featured amongst the pre-game entertainment was a group called the Rock Choir. They made one major error. They failed to keep singing for the next 80 minutes and spare us some awful rugby. How often do you see two top teams, packed with quality players, fail to deliver. This was a dreadful game. There was no flow, no rhythm, no punch in the contact areas, and no skill when the teams tried to attack.

The game was written up in some quarters as a contest between the two leading English fly-half contestants.  But only one of Farrell’s five quite kickable penalty attempts was successful. Flood’s three penalties from three gave Leicester a 9-3 interval lead, but he never looked like being able to open up the game.

In the event both were upstaged by the now-retired from Test rugby Charlie Hodgson, who came off the bench to chisel out a draw for his side on a day when two of the contenders for the Premiership title made dents on each other but no impression . Both he and Flood missed late drop-goal attempts to give their side a flattering victory. The newly-signed Chris Ashton was on the Saracens wing, and had come from scoring three tries in his previous two appearances, but found himself here on very short rations.

In the week leading up to the game the big story took place off the pitch: BT Visions’ shelling out a load of money for an exclusive television contract. Amy more games like this, and they might ponder the wisdom of their investment.

 

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Sunday Septembe…

Sunday September 2,2012

London Welsh v Leicester Tigers @ The Kassam Stadium, Oxford

Aviva Premiership, Round 1

London Welsh….13

Leicester Tigers..38

The Game

 

For the first game of the season I normally go to the London Double Header at Twickenham, but this was the Exiles’ first appearance in the top flight.

Their reward for taking on the RFU and winning an appeal against a decision to exclude them from the Premiership because they did not meet the criteria was a game against last season’s Premiership runners-up, Leicester Tigers.

Starved of money and adequate time to prepare a team, Welsh are odds-on favourites to go straight back to the Championship. Personally, I hope they stay up, if only because it would be a poke-in-the-eye to the RFU’s bungled attempt to keep the Premiership a closed shop.

 Access/Parking

 I have never been to the Kassam Stadium, but the London Welsh web-site offered

no assistance by way of directions, surely an oversight given that they need to entice their old Deer Park faithful to Oxford, as well as locals and neutrals like myself.

The ground is shared with League Two soccer side Oxford United, and their web-site was somewhat more helpful with directions. The website “Football Ground Guide” claimed that the stadium was well signposted from the main routes into Oxford. Not from the route I took (the B480 from Wallington).

Unusually, there are 2000 free spaces at the stadium, though with the threat of a long wait to get away afterwards I settled for a road-side space half a mile away.

Chatting to Leicester fans sat nearby, it would appear trying to navigate Oxford, even on a Sunday, is not easy.

 Tickets

 Bought two tickets via the club website. They arrived a week before the game, but there were press reports of problems with the club’s new ticketing system.

Fifteen minutes before kick-off I walked past two stalls piled high with tickets, presumably waiting to be collected.

It couldn’t have helped that the club web-site had mistakenly been claiming the match was a sell-out a week earlier.

 View/Comfort

 I had paid £26 each for two seats at the end of the South Stand.

There was plenty of leg room, and afforded an excellent view of the action.

The compact ground was roughly half full ( the official attendance was 6,850) , but the gaping gap onto a car park at the end to our left will always sap the atmosphere-and presumably allow the cold winter winds to whistle through..

We were sat next to a group of schoolboys from a school in Truro , and they were out of their seats so much , they must have been keeping the refreshment bars in profit on their own.

 Catering

 The food and drinks outlets offered the usual fare.

My accompanying wife is vegetarian so alas something of a no-go area.

The nearest pub is “The Priory” which is just behind the car park at the open end of the ground.

There is also the Holiday Inn Express hotel on the corner behind the Oxford Mail and South Stand.

 Toilets

 Only had to make one visit…they were close to the seats so could make a quick visit during any lull in the game.

The Gents were reasonably clean and equipped and my wife was able to report a similar scenario in the ladies.

 Not forgetting the game itself….

 A remarkable seven London Welsh players were picked in the legendary 1971 Lions squad – still the only Lions team to have won a series in New Zealand.- including John Taylor, who , as the current managing director, provides the current team with  a direct link to that glorious past. At half-time Welsh paraded some of their internationals from that earlier period. They might have been tempted to supply them with kit 20 minutes in as Leicester, remorsely exploiting weaknesses and mistakes, mauled their way into a 17-point lead and graphically highlighted the difference between Premiership and Championship rugby. Of the new signings none apart from Gavin Henson has been a regular top tier test player, and he is missing for a month having sustained a fractured cheekbone in a “friendly” against the Scarlets. The front five included Krill Kulemin,the Russia lock, Paulica Ion, the Romania prop, and Franck Montanella, the France prop, each of whom could be forgiven for failing to join the pre-match rendition of Cwm Rhondda by the London Welsh male voice choir.

It could certainly have been a lot worse. London Welsh were not exactly rejoicing at the end of this 25-point defeat, but there was an underlying feeling of relief that a potential embarrassment had been averted. As the chap next to me in the gents afterwards put it:” At least we weren’t thrashed”. By scoring two tries, competing gamely in the physical battles and generally preventing Leicester from running way with the contest the promoted team comfortably achieved respectability