Rugby Rugby’s Howard Johnson explains why rugby was the winner after a memorable afternoon at Twickenham
What a day to be a rugby fan! On a curiously, exhilaratingly mild and sunny day at Twickenham England and Wales served up a treat for anyone who loves the game. Not even the refusal of a try that could have caused heart palpitations for appointed conversion kicker Toby Flood and set up an historic draw could dampen English spirits. Fans of the red rose had witnessed a performance full of heart that bodes well for the future of this young team. The Welsh, meanwhile, got to celebrate a Triple Crown at the home of their old enemy. As we all filed out of a heaving stadium on the final whistle the atmosphere was almost surreal. Normally when your team loses in such a way the feeling is one of overwhelming disappointment, borderline grief. But not this time. And I don’t think that was down to the booze. It was simply that we all knew we’d seen something that transcended tribal allegiances, something better.
The banter before the match had been sharp as a Welsh backs move. Well, most of the time it was. The name card next to mine as we sat down for lunch simply read ‘A Bloody Welshie!’ It wasn’t perhaps poetry, but it did get things off to a suitably agreeable start, especially when said Bloody Welshie – dare I say a little ‘overserved’ by the wine waiter – proudly stuck said card in his jacket breast pocket the better to display his allegiances. In a booming baritone he then proceeded to talk quite a bit of highly-entertaining nonsense all through lunch, while his lovely and indulgent wife looked on. Will he recall much of his side’s glorious victory? Unlikely. Let’s hope he remembered to tape it.
Our thoughtful hosts had laid on a double-decker bus to get a boisterous crowd from lunch appointment to ground in time for kick-off. This, of course, gave us ample opportunity to indulge in quite a bit of shouting, together with the chance to admire some of the specimens making their way to Twickenham on foot. What new RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie would have made of the half dozen Welsh ‘maids’, all of them suspiciously hairy of chest, is anyone’s guess. But in these times of social equality and enlightenment, you suspect he wouldn’t have batted an eyelid!
If alcohol is the ultimate social lubricant, then we were on a slippery slope as harassed Twickenham bar tenders struggled to keep up with demand. Well, it was unseasonably warm! But isn’t it still a joy to be able to attend a sporting event where supporters are not only treated like adults, but behave like them as well? Red shirts mingled happily with white and light-hearted ribbing was the order of the day as everybody got down to the business of supporting.
Wales deserved their win. And England deserved the fulsome praise they received. It really was quite a game, full of nip and tuck, adventurous attack and heroic defence. The crunch of tackles galore resounded around the historic old ground and we all winced, full of admiration for the boys out there on the turf. Captains rousing their troops for battle often refer to ‘leaving nothing out there’. They would have been well advised to sweep the pitch for missing limbs at the end of such a fierce confrontation!
And while tired and sore bodies were doubtless nursed in both dressing rooms, tired and sore bodies were also nursed back into pubs, bars and receptions all around the ground. Once more unto the breach, my friends. It was the kind of day that livers dread, the kind of day that you can’t enjoy too often. But the kind of day that lives long in the memory, well after such specifics as the actual score have faded from view.
If last year much of the talk surrounding England was of rugby’s core values and the loss or otherwise thereof, this year’s first home match of the Six Nations confirmed to me at least that those core values are very much alive and well in the spirits of everyone who turns up. In the hearts and minds of the people who unreservedly and wholeheartedly love this great sport of ours. And who in their own way contribute as much to its beauty as the artists down on the field of play. Even ‘A Bloody Welshie!’
There were doubtless a significant number of sore heads being nursed the morning after the night before. But I seriously doubt there would have been too many complaints. Like I said, what a day to be a rugby fan!