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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.