First job done for England
13 November 2012
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As I arrived at Twickenham for the England v Fiji game I could sense that things were a bit different. The first of the Autumn Internationals has usually been against one of the second tier nations and so the fixture does well to fill more than three-quarters of Twickenham’s 82,000 seats. But such has been the anticipation of the rugby watching-public following England’s reinvention under Stuart Lancaster that this game was a sell-out. And as less corporate deals had been on offer it meant that more of the public could see England at slightly lower ticket prices.
QBE has taken over from Investec as sponsors of the series and their giant rugby balls were at the South-West corner of the ground. The West Car Park has been given a bit of a facelift and Greene King’s Rose & Crown tent was bigger than ever. The new pitch, a combination of grass intertwined with artificial fibres, looked immaculate and as the teams ran out the atmosphere, though not electric, was certainly one of expectation.
Injuries and unavailability meant that there were some unfamiliar faces in the England squad but I was looking forward to seeing three players in particular. The area I represent hasn’t been known for producing internationals on a regular basis; Dickie Jeeps, Jason Leonard (when Essex was part of Eastern Counties) and Dan Hipkiss are probably the best known. Holt RFC’s Ben Youngs has been an England regular for a couple of years now and it must have been a special moment for him to be joined in the squad by elder brother Tom. Tom started the game along with Cambridge’s Alex Goode and I felt very proud when Ben Youngs came on to replace Danny Care and for nine minutes three Eastern Counties players were on the pitch representing England.
After the game I made a point of getting the three together for a picture that will be framed and hung in the Eastern Counties office.
The post-match dinner was a little different too. The guests were all seated but the players of both sides were held outside so they could be applauded as they came in, something that some overseas unions have done in the past. Another change was to have a compere for the evening, in this case it was Martin Bayfield who added a professional and polished touch to the proceedings.
It is traditional for debutants to receive their international caps at the dinner and Tom Youngs wore his with great pride for the rest of the evening. I managed to have a few words with Tom, Ben and Alex and all three were clearly excited after the win and very much looking forward to the rest of the series.
The evening finished with the Fijian squad singing a couple of traditional songs, and as they move on to play a midweek game against Gloucester, England have the much more serious task of overcoming Australia. The French dismantling of the Aussies has raised expectation of an England win, a win that is crucial if they are to harbour hopes of finishing in the top four of the IRB rankings before the World Cup draw next month.