This Rugby World Cup just gets better with every match. After an opening weekend where I was glued to my sofa watching back-to-back games, I was invited by World Rugby to the Stadium at Olympic Park for France v Romania on Wednesday evening.
Living in Colchester this was an ideal venue with the direct train stopping at Stratford station just 10 minutes walk away. I met up with a friend and we followed the trail of rugby boots hanging from trees along with a stream of people, many of them wearing berets and chanting ‘Allez Les Blues’. We need not have worried about getting lost as an army of RWC 2015 volunteers from The Pack were on hand pointing the way and ready to answer any questions.
Having been heavily involved with the RWC volunteer programme I was delighted to see people that I had interviewed and others whom I had helped with their training and made a point of saying hello to them. It was also very good to talk to a couple of former Colchester players, also members of The Pack, that I hadn’t seen in over ten years.
We visited the Fan Zone where there were loads of food concessions, bars, bouncy castles and fairground rides, but most people were watching the Australia v Fiji game being shown live on a giant screen. There was a big cheer when Fiji scored their try, and at the final whistle the fact that Australia had failed to get a bonus point put England’s much criticised performance into perspective. Earlier at home, I watched Japan getting well beaten by Scotland but the victory over South Africa will remain a highlight for a long time to come.
I had been to the stadium in 2012 and it was just as impressive this time around. Extra seating had been put in to cover the athletics track and although we were further away from the pitch than at Twickenham, the view was still tremendous. After spending time over food and drink renewing friendships with French and Romanian officials and others from closer to home, it was time to settle down for the game.
The stadium’s 54,000 seats were all filled, a great achievement for a Wednesday evening in East London, and the many French supporters sang the Marseillaise (for me, the best national anthem of them all) with their usual passion. The were a good number of Romanians too and during the first half the crowd got behind their respective teams and the neutrals enjoyed a spirited contest. The hoped for shock win wasn’t to be but the crown went home well entertained.
Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk do not have any Rugby World Cup activity taking place in their areas so the Olympic Stadium with its rail connections to East Anglia is the nearest and most convenient venue for rugby supporters starved of more local live RWC action. Sure enough there were plenty of people from Eastern Counties at the game with many posts appearing on my social media feeds.
A common thread in the posts was what a fantastic time people had on the night. One, from Mick O’Shea (a fellow Old Priorian) read:
The Olympic Stadium was brilliant.
The people we met who guided us in were brilliant.
The orange garbed security were brilliant.
The ticket office were brilliant.
The fellas (Lee, his brother Mark, Huw Davies and Craig Taggart) sat next to us were brilliant
A brilliant night.
For two £20 tickets we were 10 rows from the action.
So altogether a brilliant experience for Mick and one shared by many.
Even getting home wasn’t too bad. I expected a crush at Stratford station but the crowd moved forward calmly and I got a train back to Colchester pretty quickly. Having left the stadium at just before 10pm I was home by 11:30pm.
I hope that despite West ham United taking over the tenancy of the Olympic Stadium, we will see more games played there in future seasons.