Does the country know a World Cup is taking place?

As someone who has probably watched more of the Rugby World Cup than is good for me I suppose I have rather taken it for granted that the majority of the British public, if not actually glued to their TV sets, are at least aware that the competition is taking place. After all, did not more than 11 million people watch England’s dramatic defeat by Wales on television?

So in order to see how much the UK population actually knew about the sport and competition a research agency decided to commission a UK wide survey to find out. Admittedly this was carried out a week prior to the competition kicking off, and surely some of those professing ignorance cannot have failed to pick up that maybe something was going on.
Nevertheless, though much has been written about the legacy from this World Cup, the results from the survey give an indicator as to just how far rugby has to go before it can evenly begin to rival the round-ball game in popularity.

To begin with, 32% of respondents had no idea that the competition was about to start, and 42.7% of the UK had no idea that the World Cup was actually been hosted in England.
More than half surveyed were unable to guess the correct number of points for a try, and 44% didn’t know that a game lasts 80 minutes.
Apparently a third of Londoners thought that Billy Twelvetrees had to be a fake name and not a current rugby player.
My favourite is that half the UK were unable to pick out Chris Robshaw as the England captain. 22% believed it was still Jonny Wilkinson, and 13.2% guessed that it was the television chef James Martin!
After the debacle against Wales Chris Robshaw probably wishes they were right……..
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

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Japan take on Samoa …and Milton Keynes

Japan……….26
Samoa………6

Attendance: 29,019

France had played Canada in an earlier World Cup game at Stadium MK. The report in The Times included a verdict on the venue. Heritage was “non-existent”, atmosphere was “manufactured but manic, with the full house determined to enjoy a big night out.” Crowd knowledge was “good enough, with a mixture of polite applause and the inevitable Mexican Waves.”Perhaps the prejudice against MK Dons,aka Franchise FC extends beyond the confines of SW9!

The Guardian also had a reporter snooping around the crowd. She pointed out that “if the rugby didn’t hold their attention, they could always cross the road to the multiplex, and there was plenty of shopping nearby.”
She considered Milton Keynes “the perfect locale for witness protection, if the number of people who admit to living there is anything to go by”

Sorry to disappoint her, but we have friends who have lived in Milton Keynes for years, and who were kind enough to offer my wife and I a lift to and from the stadium, so that we forsook the pleasure of the fan-buses or forking out £15 for a park-and-ride site.

And once you get into the stadium it is a delight. Chatting with other fans, most of whom were attending their first game at the ground, they were equally impressed, commenting on the comfort and legroom in the seating. The seats were high-backed and padded, similar to those at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. We were seated in the South Stand, behind one set of posts, where the biggest danger came from flying balls. There was even praise for the toilets, offering wide entrances, space, and hot running water. Such luxuries at a football ground!

After their exploits against South Africa there was no doubt that Japan were the crowd favourites. And this time they had had sufficient recovery time after their loss to Scotland. And once again they showed they are no longer fodder for the big guns, but a team who can bring legitimacy to rugby union’s claim to be a world sport. This match was all about their skill and endeavour.
The match was settled in a first half in which Japan produced a near-flawless performance to lead by 20 points. That left the second half as essentially an exercise in holding their gains, which they did comfortably.
As for Samoa, they were second best throughout, often losing discipline. Three men were yellow-carded.

Incidentally, the attendance of 29,019 was a record for the stadium for any sport.

Japan host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, and after what was to befall the current hosts later that evening, should hopefully put up a better fight.
Current coach Eddie Jones is leaving after this World Cup. Just so long as they don’t employ Stuart Lancaster in his stead. Though Japan’s forwards coach, one ex-England captain Steve Borthwick, must be a candidate for any future England set-up.

One whinge. The match programme cost £10. A fair amount of editorial, but given that this was Match No 24, it contained not a jot about the previous 23 matches. No results, no table of points or try scorers and no tables for the four pools. It’s called information and in that respect the customer forking out his £10 is being short-changed.
It can be done. Wimbledon charges a similar amount for its programme, but it manages to contain a full statistical coverage up to the previous day’s play.
Mike Miles

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

France v Romania and Thoughts on West Hams new stadium

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

France…….38
Romania…..11

Attendance: 50,626

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.
Mike Miles

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Oh to live in Twickenham, now that the World Cup is coming

Local estate agents no doubt market the south-west London suburb of Twickenham as a desirable (and expensive!) place to live. It’s a fair bet that they do not dwell on the downside from the presence of the local national rugby stadium.

It could be every resident’s nightmare: inebriated rugby fans vomiting or urinating on the streets or into your front garden after the match. Yet this is what lies in store for Twickenham residents when the Rugby World Cup gets underway in a month’s time, with 10 of the 48 matches taking place in TW1.
Richmond council had a stab at sorting out the problem when England beat France in a warmup match on August 15. Pubs were effectively encouraged to close early, at 10pm, but the decision pleased neither publicans nor long-suffering residents who already have to put up with road diversions and rubbish-strewn streets on match days.

Now imagine you wanted to create the nation’s biggest traffic jam – apart from the M25 in rush hour. First of all you would pick a Friday evening in London during term-time and then shut one of the main arterial routes out of the capital. Say by shutting the main A316 dual carriageway linking central London with the M3 and M25 from 5pm to midnight. Then you would schedule a globally significant sporting fixture to be played in that same postcode. Then you would sit back and await the inevitable transport carnage.
So when it was announced that England would kick-off the tournament at 8pm on a Friday night at Twickenham it was not only the already put-upon local residents who took a deep breath.
If there is gridlock from south-west London to the M25 and beyond, any feel good factor surrounding rugby union’s showpiece event will soon evaporate. It could be a few long nights for anyone idly driving up to town for a quiet meal.

And if transport and ill-mannered fans weren’t posing enough problems, the home of English rugby is apparently encased in a “stinking cloud” from a nearly sewage works-prompting locals to rename Twickenham Stadium as “Stinkehham.”The sewage plant is just 0.3 miles from the stadium, and there were reports during the England-France game of a “bit of a whiff”

So the moral for anyone with a ticket for a game at Twickenham must be leave very early for the stadium and hold your nose-and hope the rugby makes it all worth it……

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Why has Leicester not fallen in love with the Rugby World Cup?

It is arguably the biggest rugby city in England, boasting the country’s biggest team, biggest club stadium and biggest trophy cabinet.
If there is one place where the Rugby World Cup should be biggest this autumn, it is Leicester. And yet, two months before the start of the second largest sporting event Britain has staged in recent years, one of rugby’s traditional heartlands is proving to be the tournament’s greatest headache.
Leicester remains the only place at which none of its allotted games have sold out. All three matches still have tickets available. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the city is threatening single-handedly to prevent World Cup organisers reaching their target of selling out the entire tournament.

Perhaps the answer lies in where the games are being held. Despite hosting games at both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, and being among the venues submitted in England’s 2015 bid in 2009, the home of Leicester Tigers was suddenly branded unsuitable by the tournament’s evaluation committee. Instead, the King Power, or as the organisers insist on calling it, the Leicester City Stadium, was chosen. And to rub salt in the Tigers’ wound, it lies only a hefty kick away from Welford Road.

The outcry was immediate. “The mildest description is outrage,” said Tigers chief executive Simon Cohen.”We thought it was absolutely disgraceful that Welford Road, which is a hotbed of English rugby, wasn’t going to feature in an English World Cup”.
Attempts to overturn the decision –which even included local MP Jon Ashworth raising the matter in Parliament, and petitioning from the region’s chief constable, bishop and both its vice-chancellors – proved futile.
World Rugby, the governing body, stood by a recent tightening of its regulations, which meant Leicester’s pitch, was deemed two metres too narrow, with the ground also found not to meet minimum requirements on changing rooms, anti-doping, and broadcast and media facilities.
Tigers supporters might have expected to be appeased with some plum World Cup ties at affordable prices, but those hopes were crushed when they were handed three of the less attractive fixtures: Argentina v Tonga, Canada v Romania and Argentina v Namibia. With tickets costing anything up to £150, it was seen as another slap in the face for the city.

All this has even prompted what might be considered an attempt to hijack the tournament by the club, who have decided to erect an unofficial fan zone at Welford Road to show World Cup matches – including the two Argentinean matches at the King Power Stadium. There were rumours that World Rugby could try to block the Tigers erecting their own fanzone, although that would risk alienating further a rugby community they desperately want to win round.

Mike Miles
http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Saints win away from Home

April 25,2015
StadiumMK, Milton Keynes

Aviva Premiership
Round 20
Northampton Saints v Saracens

Northampton…….25
Saracens…………..20

Attendance 27,411

Stadium MK will get its first taste of international rugby at the World Cup later this year, when it is scheduled to host three matches, including the France v Canada game on October 1.Today’s “Best of British”, top-of-the-table clash between Northampton Saints and Saracens has long been switched to the 30,500 capacity stadium as part of tournament organiser England Rugby 2015’s operational testing programme.
Let’s hope they were watching closely. There was gridlock around the ground for more than three hours before the 3.15 kick-off; due it would seem mainly to road closures.
The last time I was here I picked a Saturday when the infamous “engineering works” meant a half-an-hour journey took almost five times as long. Has anyone bothered to check that Network Rail does not intend to carry out work on the West Coast main line next October?
This wasn’t the only cock-up. Saracens had to do a quick change of shirts at half-time because of a clash with Northampton. Saints had informed Sarries that they would be wearing a St George’s Day kit of red and white, designed to support Help for Heroes. Saracens must have not got the message and the visitors turned up in their normal away strip of all-white. The referee allowed the game to go ahead while Saracens had their normal black shirts delivered by a police escort in time for the second half.

Both teams have used Stadium Mk as a home from home in the past. Saracens were the first club to host a rugby match at the ground when Bristol visited in 2008, providing a grand stage for Rugby World Cup 2003 winner Richard Hill’s 288th and last appearance for the men in black. A last-minute try from Kameli Ratuvou ensured Hill’s 15-year club career finished on a winning note.
Northampton then used Stadium MK as a base for their assault on the Heineken Cup knockout stages in 2011. The Saints defeated Ulster and Perpignan in front of big crowds in the quarter and semi-finals. The following season also saw Munster stop by for a pool match, with Simon Zebo marking one of the most thrilling chapters in the stadium’s short rugby history with a hat-trick as the Irish side won an entertaining contest 51-36.Saracens once again visited for their home Premiership fixture against the Saints on December 310, 2012, while their new stadium at Barnet was being built.

MK Dons moved to their brand new stadium (which cost about £50million to build) in 2007. From the outside it has a modern look, with good use of silver coloured cladding and a large amount of glass on view. The most striking feature is the stadium’s roof, which sits high up above the ground with a large gap between it and the back row of seating which allows more natural light to reach the pitch. The stadium is totally enclosed and has a bowl like design.
The overall look of the stadium has recently benefitted from the installation of seating into the previously unused upper tier. This will take the capacity to 30,700 for the World Cup. It is two-tiered, with three sides having a large lower tier over-hung by a smaller upper tier. The west side of the stadium is slightly different, with the seating areas in the upper tier being replaced by the Directors box and executive and corporate hospitality areas.Unusally the spacious concourse areas at the back of the lower tier see directly into the stadium, so where is what seems a noticeable gap between the lower and upper tiers is where the concourse is located.

Once you get into the stadium it is a delight. Chatting with other fans, the majority were greatly impressed, commenting on the comfort and legroom in the seating, with excellent views of the action and a great atmosphere. The toilet facilities have been especially praised by many fans, male and female, offering wide entrances, soap and hot running water. Such luxuries at a football ground! The stadium even has such creature comforts as padded seats and the ability to watch the game in progress whilst munching a burger on the concourse.
There was an excellent fan area with around 15 branches of famous restaurants. Provided you set off in the next week or two to make sure you arrive on time, then the Milton Keynes World Cup experience should be fabulous….

But enough quibbling…let’s not forget there was a game of rugby. This biting and blasting contest marked the end of Northampton’s late-season dip. After their heavy defeats at Clermont and Exeter they had the game to hold off an heroic attempt by Saracens to dethrone them from the top of the table. Saracens, themselves coming off a draining match in France against Clermont, had to absorb the massive blow of losing Billy Vunipola in the first half to injury, being pulverised by the referee and losing a significant lead. But their commitment was beyond praise.
However, the Saints eventually overcame the sinners of Saracens, whose discipline collapsed along with their scrum after the break, when they were penalised 13 times and finished a match they led for the most part fortunate to have a bonus point. When Stephen Myler gave his side the lead for the first time 63 minutes in it was via his fifth penalty, and the Saints had found a way to win.
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Jevans’ departure: A PR disaster for RFU?

It’s not surprising that Debbie Jevans has decided to keep quiet her “personal reasons” for resigning as chief executive of the England World Cup 2015 organising committee because it has since been revealed that she is expecting a £150,000 pay-off. Her annual salary was said to be in the region of £250,000.

However, the Twickenham rumour mill has been working overtime with reasons for the Jevans walk-out, just six months before the tournament starts.
One reason touted is that the former director of sport for the London Olympics had a series of fall-outs with RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie. She already knew him as CEO of the All England Club, where Jevans is a committee member.
There are strong suggestions that Ritchie, in turn, was being pressured by the RFU management board, and the RFU committee (Will Carling’s 57 “old farts”) to make sure that the RFU bucket and spade brigade were being properly looked after by England World Cup 2015 in terms of hospitality and tickets.

So with Jevans refusing to ladle out the gravy to the RFU blazers, preferring instead to make sure World Rugby and her former Olympics operatives were catered for-especially in terms of recruiting a 200-strong RWC2015 staff contingent – the knives were out.
Word was leaked that the World Cup trophy tour was not up to scratch and that grass-roots clubs were not being involved sufficiently. Then it emerged that Ritchie was shocked by staffing levels at RWC2015, which he considered to be excessive.

Whatever the reasons, it does not reflect well on the RFU to get into a position where an administrator with Jevans’ successful track record in sports administration walks away from such an important position because of “intractable differences”.

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk