Worcester is where its at

Sunday March 17 2013

LV= Cup Final 2013

Harlequins v Sale Sharks

@ Sixways Stadium, Worcester: k.o. 15.00

West Stand:Block H,Row ,Seat 107: £30.00

 

Harlequins  …..32

Sale………………14

 

 

Apparently there was a big rugby match in Cardiff this weekend, but not too many miles away the first of this season’s major domestic finals, the LV= Cup, took place at Worcester’s Sixways Stadium.

This is a strange competition. Rather like its soccer equivalent, the Football League Cup, it takes place seemingly when no one else is looking and is competed for by reserve and up and coming players. Originally known as the R.F.U. Club Competition (for which no Cup was awarded) it kicked off in 1972.The insurance company LV= are the sixth sponsor since the first, John Player came on board in 1976. Finals used to be held at Twickenham, but declining attendances caused them to be shifted around various Premiership stadia. Worcester’s Sixways Stadium was the latest,  the second time Worcester had been awarded the final after 2010.Most of the 8,297 inside appeared to be supporters of Sale or Quins, but in a 12,000 capacity stadium at least it felt  reasonably full.

 

The stadium itself very much resembles a work in progress. It is dominated by the Slick Systems Stand on the east side of the stadium complex. It was completed in 2008, but despite its impressive size looks as though it was designed with corporate boxes at the front of the queue and ordinary punters’ seating an afterthought.

Winning my vote is the wonderfully named Fragrance Mad Stand or North Stand in everyday parlance. Plans have been approved to make this the same size as the Slick Systems Stand, and eventually push up the capacity to close to 20,000.

Certainly the stadium’s proximity to the M5 makes access by car easy enough; though parking at £10 is not cheap. And however long you delay your departure to savour the post-match delights of the Clubhouse Bar it is inevitably a slow crawl back to the motorway.

 

Harlequins completed the first leg of a potentially remarkable treble when their emerging generation of players defeated Sale to win the trophy for the first time since 1991. The victory should have provided some succour for Harlequins’ England quartets who apparently were among the crowd even though their Grand-Slam dream had crashed on the Welsh rocks the day before in Cardiff.

Only three of the starting Quins 15 could be regarded as first-team regulars, but 14 of the squad were under 23 and they backed up victory over an experienced Bath side in last week’s semi-final with another energetic team performance. Harlequins still had to rely on Tom Williams and Tom Guest, two old lags in the side, to give them initiative with first half tries. Tom Casson decided a one-sided contest when he sliced through the midfield and it threatened to become a rout when Luke Wallace crossed from close range. Centre Johnny Leota clawed back a consolation try midway through the second half, but by that time Sale’s suffering supporters were already singing “always look on the bright side of life.”

Another dismal Broncos outing

Saturday, March 9

 London Broncos(22) v. Hull K.R.(42)

Twickenham Stoop @ 18.15

Stobart  Super League:Round 6

 

 

I have experienced thrilling rugby league afternoons at The Stoop, when the sun has shone, the game has been set alight and the beer has flowed. I have also been there when the gloomy weather has cast a cloud over blocks of empty seats, the home side has given a tiny crowd nothing to get excited about, and the away fans have moaned about everything from the price of a pint to the ref’s ineptitude.

 

The Broncos had the lowest average attendance in Super-League in 2012 and the letters page of the sport’s  weekly, League Express, were frequented by those moaning about the award of a franchise to a team outside the sport’s northern heartland.

 

It could be argued that getting 3,000 ( though today’s attendance was a paltry 1,837) to The Stoop is a reasonable achievement compared to attendances at far more historic clubs in the north and those of other sports in the capital.

However, if the Broncos are not playing well, and today they never played well, it can make for a desperate atmosphere.

 

It cost me £20 for a seat anywhere in the Etihad Stand. This is a £5 increase on last season. As a new OAP I got in for a tenner then but the age limit has now been raised to 65!  And you still have to pay an extra £3 to buy a ticket online and a further £3 to use a credit card! A strange way to attract punters, especially when you can so easily buy a ticket on the gate….

 

There was only one catering van at the end of the Etihad Stand, and the prices must put a few potential punters off. A quarter –pounder was £3.70, a humble portion of chips £2.50. A cheaper alternative was the bar under the LV= Stand where choices of pies were £2 each and a cup of coffee £1.20. It was also warm respite from a bitterly cold evening.

 

Being London’s Super League club is a huge challenge. Being at the Stoop means the Broncos are on the rugby union corridor that leads from Richmond to Cornwall. The Stoop is a 10-mile drag south-west of central London, making it a painful slog for all those fans that live to the north or east. It’s easily reached via the M25 and M3, but for away fans coming down the M1 it’s another hour’s crawl around the western edge of London. Trains run regularly from Waterloo and the station is only a ten-minute walk from the station but it still makes The Stoop a lengthy trip for all but south-west Londoners, of which I am one.

 

Twickenham is cut in half by the A316 dual-carriageway, with the RFU’s concrete behemoth cut adrift from the rest of the “village”. Parking is available in neighbouring car parks, including Richmond College next door. Twickenham stadium is blessed with large car park spaces so you could park there and take the 5-minute walk over the A316.

 

With four modern stands, three of them built since London Broncos first played here 17 years ago, the Stoop is basically a new stadium. The colourful seats are comfortable enough with unobstructed views and almost all are covered. But the low trajectory makes views of the far side difficult, and that’s not helped in the Etihad Stand where the front row of seats are 20 yards from the touchline. For some reason the Broncos have made the LV= (West) Stand season ticket holders only, so it’s the unreserved Etihad (East) Stand or nothing.

 

Super league may now be a summer game, and this was the beginning of March, but the day was cold and raw. The Broncos had finished the 2012 season 12th out of 14, but had ended the season strongly after the re-introduction of Tony Rea as head coach. They had had a successful pre-season, and so expectations at the club for 2013 were high. I had witnessed the season opener against Widnes who had finished bottom of the table so were widely expected to give the Broncos their first victory of the new season. However, it was Widnes who made the flying start to the season, beating Broncos 14-28.

 

Now it was Hull KR’s turn to deal another blow to the fragile credibility of the London Broncos by inflicting their third defeat, 22-42, in three home matches  in front of another pitifully small audience. That this game almost directly followed an LV= Cup semi-final between Harlequins and Bath at lunchtime that attracted more than three times as many spectators and therefore produced a decent atmosphere was an unfortunate contrast.

The happier days when the Broncos drew comparable gates to the Stoop are now only hazy memories. They are already considering yet another change of venue for 2014, with David Hughes, the millionaire without whom Super league’s London dream would have died years ago, hoping to announce a decision as early as April.

The wider worry for the game is whether Super League’s London presence may shortly do the same.

 

Drive back into central London on the A316 and you pass one of rugby league’s former homes, the Polytechnic Stadium by the Thames at Chiswick. The 1930s cantilever stand once restored by the supporters is now derelict, the pitch overgrown and the banking demolished. It is one of the game’s ghost grounds.

The Broncos may have come a long way from Chiswick to the Stoop, but next year there will have to be yet another ground to call home. In the meantime, The Stoop will have to do.

Is It Football 1 Rugby 0….?

The final list of venues for Rugby Union World Cup 2015 is due to be released at the end of March. However, in the “Sunday Times” of March 4, rugby writer Stephen Jones “revealed” the final list of 12 stadia. The 2015 tournament will see the sport showcased almost exclusively away from rugby stadiums, with 9 of the 12 venues selected being football grounds.

According to Jones Gloucester’s Kingsholm is the only club rugby stadium on the list, with the only other recognised rugby arenas being Twickenham and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Leicester Tigers have already vented their disgust that no games will take place at their 24,000-capacity Welford Road, while Leicester City’s 32,000-capacity King Power Stadium will stage four games.

However less than a day after the article was published it was announced that Exeter’s Sandy Park has been added to the list of the 18 “potential” venues, as redevelopment work on Bristol City’s Ashton Gate may not be completed in time for the event.

But Sandy Park’s capacity will only be 12,000 at the time of the tournament so it does raise the question as to whether this is a “political” decision.

 

An unnamed “member of the organising committee” was quoted in the same Sunday Times article as saying “People tell us that we should stick to known rugby areas. Doesn’t that miss the opportunity to spread the game? Just because there is no pro team in a town, that doesn’t mean it’s not a rugby area”

 

He might have added that the organisers need an average attendance of 55,000 just to meet the £80m guarantee they had to make to the International Rugby Board. So from a purely revenue point of view, using football stadiums is a no-brainer. The need is to shift 2.9million tickets, and time is against staging World Cup games at the Olympic Stadium. Even Wembley’s availability is complicated by a potential clash with American football!

 

The World Cup is scheduled for the early part of the football season. Should we assume someone has thought to discuss potential fixture clashes with the Premier League who can get quite uppity about these sorts of things?

 

As a fan of both the round and oval ball games I’d like to believe the choice should not boil down to simple capacity, the number of toilets or executive boxes, or even the number of rugby clubs in the area. In other words, the ability to charm both rugby fans and attract curious neutrals should swing it.

What no-one should forget is that ultimately the tournament will be judged as much on say, Georgia v Namibia in Coventry as England v Australia at Twickenham The Olympics had fun and community engagement at its core. If this is missing in 2015 it will be the biggest wasted opportunity of our rugby lifetimes.