Saturday, October 10, 2015

Italy 9 vs Ireland 16 (Pool D, Rugby World Cup) - October 4, 2015

After watching three soccer games in just over 24 hours, it was time for some rugby on Sunday evening. The 2015 World Cup is taking place in England and was the main reason I had come over, primarily to see Canada take on Romania. That wasn't until Tuesday in Leicester, but there was another Pool D match in London on Sunday afternoon, with Ireland taking on Italy. Both teams had already beaten Canada, and with France also in the pool, the winner of this match would qualify for the quarter finals while the loser would be eliminated.

The venue was the Olympic Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, usually a short trip on public transit from Greenwich, where I was staying. But it was Sunday, which meant buses were few and far between. The first bus that showed up was full down below and didn't even bother stopping, even though there was room in the upper deck. I decided to make my way to the Cutty Sark DLR station nearby but that was closed due to a passenger having been hit by a train two stations away (the person survived according to reports). I had to run under the Thames to the next station north at Island Gardens, from where I could get a train to Mudchute, where I transferred to one to Canary Wharf, where I again transferred to a train to Stratford, where the stadium is located. And by located, I mean a good 15-minute walk through a crowded tourist area and outdoor shopping mall. By the time I had left the train, it was nearly game time, so I ran much of the way there, stopping only to take a picture of the collection of jerseys.

I had ordered tickets online, so had no worries about looking for one from touts, which was a blessing as there was not a single ticket available outside. I saw several Irish fans wandering about, clearly having failed in their attempts to acquire a ticket on the secondary market. Interestingly, the top rows in the end zones had been covered with tarps, thus reducing capacity slightly. I'm not sure why this was done but I'm sure they could have filled the place if they had made all seats available.

As I had purchased the cheapest ticket at the last minute, I was very far away from the action, as you can see above. By the time I approached my seat, 10 minutes had passed and Ireland had scored a penalty for a 3-0 lead. I stood next to the usher on the landing for a while as I did not want to disturb those sitting, and saw Italy tie the game on a penalty. I used that break in the action to dart to a concession stand to get some food. For such a new stadium, the selections were surprisingly limited, either a chicken burger or chicken nuggets for sustenance. Ugh. Perhaps other stands had better offerings, and I did see a bulk candy concession (below) on the way out, but was quite disappointed with the menu overall.

When I returned to the landing with food in hand, I again stood next to the usher, and watched as Ireland scored a try at the far end of the pitch to take a 10-3 lead after the conversion.

The rest of the match was a very defensive affair, with both sides scoring two penalties, Ireland's coming from fly-half Jonathan Sexton (below). With Ireland leading 16-9 and just 10 minutes to go, Peter O'Mahony was sent to the sin bin for charging into the ruck, but Italy could not take advantage of the extra man and Ireland held on for the narrow win.

This was a worrisome score for the men in green, who had expectations of an easier time against the Azzurri. Although they had qualified, they had to be worried about their final match against France, with the winner getting an easier quarter final while the loser would take on New Zealand.

After the game, I stayed in my seat and let the crowd disperse. Below is a picture of a mostly empty stadium, which consists of white and black seats with no discernible pattern. A very nice stadium, but still rather bland when compared to the more ostentatious venues in the United States. West Ham, the EPL team I support, will take over the stadium next season, so I will return eventually and make sure to get here in plenty of time.


The public transit debacle continued afterwards as fans returning to Stratford station were stopped several times "for our own safety". Officials were trying to maintain some level of control over access to the station, from which several train lines depart, so the 15-minute walk became a 45-minute wait. Attendance was 53,000, and I have attended events with similar crowds where people were able to get home without issue, but in England they prefer to keep platforms empty. I really think this was overkill in this situation as the Jubilee line train was quite empty by the time I arrived. It will be interesting to see if the same method of crowd control is used after West Ham matches, where keeping visiting fans in close quarters with the home supporters is a bad idea indeed.

Ireland defeated France in the final pool match and will take on Argentina in the quarter finals, while France gets the All Blacks. I'll update the results here over the final weekends of the competition.



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