Boxing day is usually football, but let’s do Rugby Union.

Wembley Stadium for Saracens v Wasps. Image is my own.

Pre Game

When I left Wembley Stadium on October 12th having seen England play so poorly against Montenegro I vowed that it would be some considerable time before I came back for anything other than what would hopefully be an Arsenal visit.

But I went back today and it wasn’t even for football.

My sister, in a bid to make the rest of us feel considerably worse about ourselves spent some time over the festive period volunteering for Crisis, an impressive charity helping others with nowhere else to go at this time of year and Crisis had offered those helping free tickets to Saracens v Wasps.

It’s not every day you watch a new sport live for the first time, so I was reasonably excited. In addition, Wembley remains one of the most impressive stadiums in the world and whilst I’ve got no idea what I’ll be doing a couple of years from now, Sports Journalism isn’t out of the question, so broadening my horizons can’t be a bad thing. With Arsenal not playing until tomorrow it seemed to be a good opportunity.

The game

Now first things first, I like my stadiums full. Yes, I’m a spoilt ‘Big Four’ fan, but I don’t pretend not to be. Seeing Wembley just 40% full is an odd sight, it’s like seeing Katie Price with clothes on. I wonder if I’ll ever go to Wembley again and have my own row. I hope not.

So, given my appalling lack of knowledge about the state of Club Rugby I had resorted to BBC Sport for clarification. It transpired this was 3rd v 5th in the Aviva Premiership, so it should have been a good game, but even with my lack of knowledge about Rugby Union, at half time and the score just 3-0 to Saracens I realised it was pretty rubbish. I was later pleased to see  the BBC Sport website felt justified calling it “a dull first half.”

The football fan inside me couldn’t help but start to notice the differences as my focus drifted from the game. Firstly stopping the clock is an interesting one to have going in ‘live in the stadium’, so as fans you really do know how long is left. I wondered if it could work allowing the referee or the fourth official to be linked to a clock in the stadium? It would certainly become much clearer what warrants a stoppage in football – no added time because it’s Manchester United and you secretly want to be mates with Fergie.

Probably the biggest difference I noticed was the PA system blaring out a catchy little song called ‘stand up, stand up for the saracens’ to which the crowd would respond by waving flags and joining in with the lyrics. It seemed to happen at rather random moments as well as when Saracens finally got points on the board. At one point I even heard the guy in front of me say ‘enough already’ – and he was a real Rugby fan. The thought of the PA system blaring out ‘Stand up, Stand up for the Arsenal’ whilst Cesc Fabregas was playing a lasy five yard pass to Denilson would be astonishing.

All the more odd is that at no point did any of the fans show any interest in standing up as the song ordered. Could do with a quick rewrite I think.

This is what it sounded like:

The cheerleaders were a distraction from a very dull first half. Image is my own.

There were also some extremely excitable cheerleaders dancing around in the corners. I understand the half time entertainment, but during the game? Not sure how necessary that was. Having them stroll round the pitch did seem to lift the atmosphere however!

Half time miracle!

The trip to Wembley did get better because of what would happen at half time. They had three blokes from the crowd who had to kick a rugby ball from just inside the half way line to try and hit the crossbar. Think SkySports crossbar challenge, but with a rugby ball.

First bloke strolls up, 33 year old slightly tubby guy and boom – smack onto the crossbar. The biggest noise of the game was reserved for this guy who wheeled away in delight at the disbelief that he’d just won the £250,000 prize. Truly remarkable scenes, worth the entrance fee alone. If I’d paid I guess.

The other note of interest at half time was a singer (no idea who she was) who was awful but proceeded to tell the crowd her single was out today. Good luck.

Second half

The game couldn’t have got much worse, so it was little surprise when it did get a little better during the second half. Saracens went 10-0 up after flanker Saull had forced the only try of the game and Farrell converted. The game did get closer, certainly in terms of the scoreline as Wasps scored two penalties through Walder, but in truth Saracens deserved the victory for their second half dominance and secured it with another penalty from Farrell.

Final thoughts

Free flags were raised as soon as the music came on adding a bit of colour. Image is my own.

Well I can see the appeal and whilst going to a game at Wembley is not a fair reflection on an average Aviva Premiership game, there are clearly some positives. Fans aren’t segregated, there are more kids, it’s cheaper, it’s friendlier and the players don’t wear snoodes.

On the other hand, it felt very quiet, perhaps because of the size of Wembley but more because it seemed all the atmosphere was made by what was happening on the pitch. At football, fans will sing at any point, it doesn’t need something brilliant to happen on the pitch. It seemed the reverse was true today.

So that’s that, Rugby Union box ticked. I’m sure I’ll go back at some point and given Saracens won and they put free flags everywhere (good marketing) I guess it’ll be there. Yes, on reflection Saracens till I die.


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