I was lucky enough to have attended the Rugby World Cup match last night between Wales and Australia at Twickenham. It was an exciting and well fought match between two teams who did not want to lose. I've been looking forward to the match for weeks and despite England disappearing from the tournament. I was going to Twickenham for the Rugby World Cup.
I remember my first visit to Twickenham fairly lucidly; the sheer size of the place, the crazy silence when kicks were being taken, and the smell of wax jackets and whisky. I'd only ever previously been to Villa Park, and the main thing I picked up there was learning a vast dictionary of new expletives, many of which later got me into trouble as I showed off to my siblings around the dinner table.
Twickenham was different. The crowd belted out 'Swing Low' far louder than any cathedral choir and the silence at the kicks was uninterrupted - for both sides. It was like a church to rugby; a monument to a game where the competition happened on the pitch, not in the stands. You were there to support not just your own team, but the game of rugby itself.
One of the paradigms noted across the commercial activity in 'support' of this Rugby World Cup has been the notion of having to 'pick sides'; the idea that it's impossible to enjoy the spectacle without dressing in the team colours and shouting for your team. Whilst that may be part and parcel of modern sports, it's also created an unforeseen consequence of people actively 'un' supporting the opposition. The theme tune of the RWC - The World in Union is not about using Rugby to divide us, but to bring us together.
At the lower levels of the game, this just isn't the case. The example set by the spectators at the traditional rugby stadia on the World Cup circuit has exemplified this beautifully - none more so than at Exeter today, for Italy v Romania. The crowded Sandy Park stadium fell silent at each kick. At Birmingham & Solihull yesterday, our South African winger Wayne Child suffered a bad knee injury - this morning our opposition Newport dropped us a tweet to offer their support and hope of a speedy recovery. This is Rugby.
My other observation is around the commercial support of Rugby. The majority of sponsors look to reflect the core principles of what Rugby is about - teamwork, integrity, performance and friendship. These principles shouldn't be exploited by commercial interest, but reflected in it. I read an observation earlier this week from an old colleague, bemoaning the O2 brand-alignment with the England Rose and how O2 should 'snatch victory from the jaws of defeat' in re-aligning themselves with a different country for the rest of the tournament.
That's not rugby. Rugby isn't about supporting the best team, it's about supporting your team. England are the hosts, now we can't set an example of how to win well, let's set an example of how to lose with dignity. As England Rugby, our team may be out of the tournament - but we're still hosting it. Let's show the world what we mean when we refer to the 'Rugby family'.