Some thoughts on Adams Park

I’ve always had a soft spot for London Wasps, and when I came across the following story I can understand why….

As a reasonably well-established rugby club by the latter part of the nineteenth century Wasps were eligible to be founder members of the Rugby Football Union. A meeting was scheduled for January 26,1871, for the formalities to take place. However a mix-up led Wasps to sending their representative to the wrong venue,at the wrong time on the wrong day. So he was not present at the inauguration ceremony and Wasps forfeited their right to be call founder members of the RFU But the version I prefer is that the Wasps man went to another pub of the same name and got so drunk he never made it to the right venue.

The club’s biggest present day problem is that they are having to share with a football club, and there will be no long-term prosperity until they reap the financial benefits of playing in their own stadium. That prospect appears further and further away. Indeed, the latest rumour is that Wasps will ground-share with Brentford F.C. when (and if) the latter move into their proposed brand new stadium near Kew Bridge in west London.

Tigers blown away by old boy

There is an unwritten rule in the round ball game that a returning player will usually score against his old team. I’ve not come across a similar scenario in rugby, but nevertheless, on Sunday it was a Leicester Tigers old boy in Andy Goode who proved the real irritant to them. In the driving wind and rain it was Goode who provided the experience in conditions that seemed to suit him perfectly. He scored 17 out of Wasps’ 22 points with three penalty goals ( one from 60 metres on the angle), a conversion of the game’s only try, and two well-struck drop goals.

Leicester Tigers are the current Premiership champions, and are easily the most successful English side domestically of the past decade with three championships and appearances in six Premiership finals. Yet amazingly, they have not won at Adams Park since September 2007, when Wasps were in their pomp. Since then the home side have flirted with relegation,and even extinction, but they have always managed to get one over the men from the East Midlands.

To be fair to Leicester they were missing 18 players, either injured or on international duty, but they were off-colour here. This was Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill’s first game back in charge after his nine-game matchday ban, but even he was sanguine about the situation.”Our standards need to be better”,he said afterwards,”but in the context of our injuries you can’t be too hard on the guys.”

It can be strange watching rugby at this time of year. Whatever the injury scenario, the top clubs will be denuded of players due to the November internationals.So as a punter you can’t help but feel cheated at being deprived of watching the best players. After all, when World Cup qualifiers are being played, football’s Premiership is suspended for that weekend.So if rugby insists in carrying on,and the clubs know what will happen, how come none of them see fit to lower their admission prices as an acceptance of the lower class fare on offer?

A day out at the Arms Park

Cardiff Arms Park is one of the most iconic grounds in world rugby, but it has taken me until now to get there, for the Cardiff/Toulon Heineken Cup game.

Cardiff Arms Park (named after a hotel which once stood on the site) built its first stand in 1881. The architect was Archibald Leitch no less, famous for designing Glasgow Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium, and Fulham’s Craven Cottage, among others.In those early days there was even a cricket ground to the north as well as a rugby stadium to the south. by 1969 the cricket ground had been demolished to make way for the present day Arms Park to the north and a second rugby stadium to the south. This was the National Stadium, and used by the Welsh national team  until it too fell under the wrecking ball in 1997, to be replaced by the Millennium Stadium.

The latter dominates its much smaller cousin, but the two are conjoined as if by an umbilical cord. For the South Stand of the Arms Park forms a complete unit with the North Stand of the Millennium Stadium. My seat was in this South Stand , which you enter underneath the North Stand of the Millennium – all that prevents you from entering the latter are heavy barred gates and some wary stewards.

Apparently this section is known locally as “Glanmor’s Gap”, after a former W.R..U. President. The story has it that the W.R.U. were unable to secure enough funding to include the North Stand in the Millennium Stadium. The latter was therefore built with the old reinforced concrete structure of the National Stadium’s North Stand, with the rest of the new steel Millennium Stadium structure built around it.

So it may not have been due to the most satisfactory of reasons , but I believe that somehow what has emerged does work for an unashamed ground enthusiast such as me.

Now that we’re singing the Blues

Saturday October 19 2013

Cardiff Blues (19) v Toulon (15) @ Cardiff Arms Park

Heineken Cup:Round 2

Watching this torrid,penalty-dominated affair, my thoughts wandered off to the West Ham team of the late sixties. They had three world cup winners in their line-up, but never remotely looked capable of being league champions.

Now here I was watching a Cardiff Blues side who,in their last match, had suffered a chastening 44 – 29 defeat at Exeter Chiefs,after being 41-3 down at one stage. Coach Phil Davies had apparently snapped at a reporter who had asked the not unreasonable question as to how a team with 13 internationals,including five Lions, could be so abject.

Hence,my sense of deja vu.

But Cardiff’s problems run far deeper. In Welsh regional rugby the bitter reality is that all four of the country’s professional teams have seen some of their star turns leave home in pursuit of a brighter,wealthier future – a hemorrhaging of talent that becomes more difficult to stem with every failed attempt  to rescue the Heineken Cup or find an alternative acceptable to all.

The papers are full of stories of current Blues stars Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton being courted by big-spending French clubs such as today’s visitors Toulon.

So no-one seriously expected the Blues to prevail over the reigning Heineken Cup holders. But they did – just.The heirs to Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies were playing in a shocking pink strip , and on an artificial surface to boot. At least the latter could allow a pitch invasion, and on they came at the final whistle as if the cup itself had just been won.

The die-hard manner of  the victory, with the crowd singing unbidden at the end,must have helped restore pride at one of the game’s most historic grounds. This was a day when many things were put to the test in a rugby country where a debate about the future of the regional game stretches far beyond the capital.

One final thought….There is regular condemnation of the “divers” that disfigure the round-ball game,but there was an incident in this match that showed how the egg-chasers have a similar problem.

Toulon’s Fijian winger, Josua Tuisova, was closing in on the try-line but over-cooked his chip ahead. So he went looking for a penalty. Leigh Halfpenny tried to back out of the way but Tuisova nevertheless crashed dramatically to the ground-before giving his colleagues a thumbs up when he thought nobody was watching. Johnny Wilkinson kicked the resulting penalty to put his side 15-12 ahead. But then back came Cardiff with the game’s only try, so arguably justice was done.


The Americans are Coming





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Beware the American invasion

I have just got back from holiday, and so missed the recent N.F.L (that’s American football to you) game at Wembley. A friend tells me that there were some pretty severe traffic disruptions in central London.

Apparently, Regent Street was closed off while the National Football League (NFL) held its block party on Saturday, ahead of the Vikings v Steelers game on the Sunday.

Half a million people showed up……yes, half a million.

 Here I feel that rugby’s powers that be are unaware of a serious threat to their sport’s place in the national consciousness. The NFL is coming. They have just announced that there will be three games played at Wembley in 2014, and the odds are shortening on a team being based full-time in London, and if that happens rugby will be competing with the most outstandingly effective promotional machine in the history of professional sports.