Sunday February 24,2013
London Irish v London Wasps
@ The the Madejski Stadium, Reading : k.o. 12.05
Aviva Premiership : Round 16
East Tier 1:Block Y25:Row V : Seat 213: £20.00
Apparently the Madejski Stadium was named the best stadium to watch rugby in England in a supporter’s survey conducted by Rugby World magazine during 2009/10. The home of London Irish claimed the top accolade in a survey of more than 1,500 rugby supporters, securing nearly a quarter of overall votes regarding which ground offered spectators the most comfortable match day experience. The survey praised the stadium’s shop and transport links, and nearly every fan who cited it as the best ground in terms of facilities mentioned the proximity to the M4 and large on-site parking area.
I have driven past the stadium on the M4 countless times so thought it was about time I actually paid a visit.
Ironically, the largest crowd for a London Irish match was for a game against today’s opponents London Wasps on March 15, 2008, when a crowd of 23,790 turned up. Today’s attendance by contrast, was a much more modest 7,184
As I drove slowly out of one of the Madejski’s car parks after the game I listened to the Scotland/Ireland 6 nations match on the car radio. Unlike in the past London Irish have contributed nobody to the current Irish team.
London Irish RFC was founded in 1898 for the young Irishmen of London, modelling itself on the already established London Welsh and London Irish teams.
It is a testament to the international state of the Premiership that the Exile’s current 36-man squad numbers only 4 Irishmen. Englishmen make up the biggest contribution with 17, and there are the almost obligatory 3 Tongans and 3 Samoans.
The clubs own website warned that “roads in the area are very busy, and queuing can be expected exiting the M4 and then all the way to the stadium” Forewarned I left home in plenty of time for the 12.05 kick-off and found myself enjoying a cup of coffee in the stadium concourse an hour before kick-off. Everybody, from car park attendants to programme sellers were very friendly and helpful, though it did sound slightly odd to be greeted with a “good morning” at a sports fixture. Such are the demands of television.
Both teams went into this match with different priorities. Wasps were fourth in the Aviva Premiership with their sights on at least a Heineken Cup spot for next season, and even a play-off place in this. The Exiles on the other hand were next to bottom, with only a single point between them and bottom club Sale. But after an impressive 30-19 win over the High Wycombe outfit they had climbed to 10th, five points ahead of Sale who they face along with fellow strugglers London Welsh and Worcester in their three remaining home fixtures.
Shane Geraghty and Marland Yarde both crossed the try-line, while full back Tom Homer added a total of 20 points from the kicking tee. Wasps even led 16-14 at half-time after a fine finish from Christian Wade, but the hosts stepped up a gear in the second half and were comfortable winners in the end. Wasps Director of Rugby Dai Young admitted that his team were never in control of the game.
The clubs website has a wonderful quote from that doyen of sports writers, the late Bryon Butler: “The only corner of heaven on earth can now be formally identified; it is an old rubbish tip beside the drumming infinity of the M4 in the Royal County of Berkshire. Rival claims will not be entertained for the time being.”
Perhaps the hyperbole may not be entirely justified, but nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable first visit to the Madejski Stadium.