After a bit of a break, but not much, I was soon off on the road again and this time to foreign lands, crossing the Severn Bridge and leaving England for a few days.
Due to the ludicrous pricing of hotels in the principality, I’d only been able to book a room, I’m a Travelodge out near the airport. On arrival in the city, my friend and I jumped on another train to Barry. We’d hoped to get a cab there to the hotel but we arrived to tumbleweed. Fortunately the hotel was close enough to walk to but it was all uphill!
Having done our exercise for the day, we called a cab to take us back to the city so we could start drinking.
I was wearing my Fiji shirt. Now, let me make one thing clear: I bought this before the World Cup because I liked the shirt, the same as my England, Japan and Namibia jerseys. Let me make another thing clear: I did want Fiji to win. Of course, from an England perspective (at the time, at least!), a Fiji win would’ve helped us. But what did you expect – me to cheer a country I have no ties to and who don’t like us, just because they’re neighbours? Yeh right, that works both ways…!
In the city we headed to a few different pubs – Brewdog, Zerodegrees, City Arms. I’d been I the latter a few times before but never seen it so busy. Inside it was quite quiet other than being 4/5 deep at the bar but outside it was milling with red expectation.
As always with rugby, the atmosphere was brilliant. Inside the stadium, it was equally so and those around us took great delight in winding up the English but the more we took the piss out of ourselves, the more they realised we just didn’t care! I cheered all points, for both teams, as I always do (even against England, and even last week), and thoroughly enjoyed the game. The tension was pretty high at the end as Fiji got close to a stunning win, but in the end they were kept just at arm’s length.
It was a good evening, but I was starving now so we trekked around the city to find a decent eatery that wasn’t spilling into the streets. We eventually found a couple of seats at some bar and ordered a couple of burgers and a couple of beers. Wi the early start and the afternoon drinking, we were both exhausted and after the food we decided to call it quits and save energy for tomorrow. Despite the distance, we were back in the room in time to watch the second half of the evening game!
The next day started with a fat breakfast, a stroll to the station and a just-before-midday arrival to the first pub! The match tonight between NZ and Georgia wasn’t until 8pm so we had to pace ourselves… And to give us a break we made the most of the nice weather to stroll around the castle, photograph a massive ball and just enjoy the building atmosphere. There were a lot of Kiwis around and not so many Georgians!
The game was itself was pretty attritional, with New Zealand not playing very well and the Georgians throwing everything at them. Thankfully we had our own entertainment in the shape of a drunk Kiwi and her drink friends, one of whom loved dropping the C word into conversation! Let’s just say the other people around weren’t very impressed. It didn’t help that none of them had a clue about rugby and didn’t really seem to be bothered about watching!
After the game, we had a stroll through the city and got some highlights of a Friday night. Most pubs were full of sweaty old men so we headed for O’Neills which at least had live music and cheap drinks!
We headed home long after midnight and had an early train back to London later that day so we needed to get as much sleep as possible!
Despite our taxi driver not turning up,we managed to just make the 8.25 train back to civilization and went our separate ways at Paddington, keen to get home for some rest before meeting up later for the England v Australia match, and also to catch the football and early rugby match!
With the ridiculous experiences we’ve had of Twickenham in the past, we headed out fairly early and headed straight for the stadium, the local pubs overflowing. The car parks had been turned into fan areas and the stadium looked very different outside. Despite every England game here selling out, it seemed busier than usual and every spare inch of floor seemed to be occupied. Had they smuggled more people in?
Having watched South Africa beat Scotland, we headed to our seats, high up behind the posts. I like being high up at the rugby as it gives a great perspective and these seats were the lowest category but still great.
Also, we had a great view of Australia’s first half dominance, England’s brief second half resurgence and a clear view of Giteau running free in the final minute. Overall,it was shocking rugby from England – a flat performance. I was very nervous at the start but within 20 minutes I was resigned to the inevitable. It didn’t stop me cheering, shouting, singing and supporting but it was very disheartening.
At the end, I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed because I was angry that England had been so poorly managed, so poorly led and had performed so, yep, poorly on the pitch, too. Whilst all the talk of the back line shuffles, the fame was lost up front and the pack looked like boys against men. This is an Australia team that could barely even spell “scrum” a few months ago but they sure learnt fast, playing on the well-publicised issues on our loosehead side. And it worked, and fair play to them.
The referee didn’t have the best of games, but he wasn’t helped by his assistants or the TMO. There was a deliberate knock-on by Aus; Hooper should’ve been yellow carded for the same offence Farrell was; Burgess should’ve been yellow carded at the same time as Farrell; Robshaw lined up at every scrum almost at right angles; etc. Let’s hope we don’t see much more of the French officials at this World Cup.
But let’s not hide the fact that England were disorganised, lacking leadership and totally outplayed by Australia. Unlike last week, we were never at the races and got what we deserved.
Carry them home? Make them walk.
We’d planned to hang around after the game to let the train queues go down but after that,I just wanted to get home. Thankfully, for once, Twickenham obliged and we were on a (very slow) train within half an hour and at Waterloo to make our connection. Having been out past midnight last night, getting home just after midnight tonight seemed quite a result!
As the saying goes, no rest for the wicked. Sunday morning I was up bright and early and on a train to Leicester for the next leg. It was a nice day it I just wasn’t feeling it and even thought about spending the afternoon in a nice pub drinking.
Once in Leicester I dropped my bag off and headed out for a stroll along the canal towards the stadium. It was pretty quiet but as I got closer more and more Argentinians appeared and there was quite a buzz around the stadium. I found the team buses and got a couple of snaps and then headed in.
It was close to kickoff and the 20minute wait for a diet coke was slightly annoying but once the game started that was all forgotten. It was a lively game and Tonga came out hard and produced some excellent running rugby. Argentina, supported by Diego Maradona(!), took 20 minutes or so to get going but once they did, they went!
The neutral crowd cheered every Tonga point. The Pumas cheered their team every bit as loud. It was a cracking atmosphere and the players gave their all. For a team on the verge of the QF, Argentina produced when they had to and produced a lot of quality. I’d not thought too highly of them pre-tournament but I think they’re the team who’ve impressed me most, and their fans are brilliant!
After the match, I hung around with many of the fans and clapped all the players off. Both teams seemed to be having a great time chatting to fans, carrying their kids around the pitch and just enjoying the occasion. I’d joined a line near the tunnel trying to get my shirt signed and I was grateful for a very helpful steward who made sure the players came over and signed for me! For Argentina, Jeronimo de la Fuente signed and for Tonga it was Latiume Fosita. As well as that, I got a picture with Sitiveni Mafi, the Tongan player formally of Leicester Tigers.
It certainly cheered me up and I enjoyed my stroll back along the canal to my friend’s house. It was a really good day and was finished off by a nice relaxing evening and bloody good curry!
Monday was a day off and a chance to do my “chores” and have a stroll around the city. And a couple of lunchtime beers.
A long weekend. An up and down weekend. We’re not in it, but this World Cup keeps on giving. Next stop Milton Keynes!