Wednesday September 23,2015
France v Romania
Rugby World Cup 2015 , Match 11
The Stadium,Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
East Stand,Entrance F,Block 230,Row 54,Seat 607, £35.00
Like most people my last visit to the Olympic Stadium had been to watch athletics at the 2012 Olympics. So when it was announced that a number of matches in this year’s Rugby World Cup would be played in “The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park”, to give it its full moniker, that had to be a venue worth going to. Factor in that I am a West Ham United supporter, and that in less than 12 twelve months they will be strutting around that same arena, well you had to see what it promises!
At a test event at the end of August featuring the Barbarians and Samoa the game descended into farce when the sprinklers came on and soaked the players during a break in play-more soggy Saturday than Super Saturday. And my infrequent visits to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium I was left with the impression of a magnificent ground but a misery to get to and an even bigger misery to get away from unless you are prepared to miss the last 20 minutes…something Arsenal supporters look willing to do.
The game kicked off at 8.00 so the tubes and Stratford Station were a mix of rugby fans, commuters and shoppers. The tournament organisers had copied the Olympic idea of “helpers” to direct fans but these were keeping a pretty low profile around the station and Westfields shopping centre in favour of massing around the stadium precincts, when it was pretty bloody obvious where you were going. So I adopted the time-honoured principle of following other fans. This route took me past the West Ham office selling the move, but was devoid of customers. Perhaps potential punters were checking out the stadium for real.
Avoid the inevitable late rush and entry is easy, the concourses are spacious, and finding your seat straightforward enough. I had paid £35 for a Category C seat, in the corner but high enough to follow all the action. The stadium also has two large screens at either end, and I hope these are retained when West Ham move in.
Rather like after the Olympics, there has been much talk of the legacy from this tournament, and it had been marketed to the non-rugby following fan as somewhere to bring the family. In front of me was a family with two young boys who clearly found the games on their i-pad a bigger attraction to what was happening on the pitch. If I’m honest I couldn’t blame them. The match took a long time to get going. I timed the first Mexican wave at 12 mins 30 sec.
The organisers are already boasting of how virtually every game has sold out. Certainly, the touts were out in force this evening. But you do wonder if much as the British like to attend such high profile sporting events (and this World Cup has been billed as the world’s 3rd largest sports event after the Olympics and its football equivalent) that is as far as their commitment will go.
My wife came with me. Paradoxically she hates crowds, and would only come on condition we left early. So as we walked back to Stratford Station 20 minutes before full-time, along a completely different route to that which we’d been directed before.
I hope West Ham attract 54,000 people on a regular basis. But if that means an hour afterwards being funnelled into Stratford station a lot of the gloss will disappear.
The referee was Jaco Peyper, who took charge of England’s opening game against Fiji, when one of the main talking points afterwards was the number of times he went to the TMO, and how long it took for a decision.
It was only 3-3 after 30 minutes, and by then, the TMO had ruled out a Romania try. Thankfully, the TMO could take the rest of the night off. Then it all unravelled for the Romanians.Paulica Ion was sent to the sin bin, and in his absence the French scored two tries. Both were converted by Parra from the touchline, and suddenly the French were 17-3 up and free from the burden of possible humiliation.
Romania kept France out for 25 minutes of the second half, before they let in three more tries.
But by then I was already on the way home. Those who stayed were clearly treated to an enjoyably harum-scarum final quarter.
The papers had their own verdicts on The Olympic Stadium: According to The Times it was:
-Noisy at times, cathedral-like at others
-Fair to say this was not a West Ham United Crowd (?)
The Guardian had even sent a reporter to report on the stadium. According to Owen Gibson “At last it was possible to get a tingling sense of how it might crackle on a big Premier League night or, in Karren Brady’s dreams, for big European matches.”
“Those expensive retractable seats-which Brady had pushed so hard for-had been rolled forward on three sides, creating odd platforms behind the lower tier. It remains a vast bowl, in many ways the polar opposite of Upton Park.”
“When the anthems rang out before kick-off, or when the French supporters tried to urge their players over the try-line, the noise had a tendency to drift into the night air. I was left with the impression that West Ham fans will have to go some to create an atmosphere opposing teams will find intimidating”.
But at least we Hammers fans can hope our team will deliver a better spectacle than this match.