Sunday September 2,2012
London Welsh v Leicester Tigers @ The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Aviva Premiership, Round 1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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