Haligonia Sports Contributor Henry Whitfield is spending his Christmas vacation across the pond in England. While there he will be contributing match reports on Cricket, Rugby and Premier League Football.
The following is an account of the December 26th Rugby Union match between Saracens and London Wasps of the Aviva Premiership.
The new 90,000 seat Wembley Stadium in England was opened to the world in 2007, a state of the art facility. Since that moment, I have eagerly anticipated the day that I would finally see the modern wonder in person.
Today that goal was fulfilled.
My family bundled into two cars and headed off into London, not knowing the destination I was quite chuffed when I saw the distant outline of the new Wembley Stadium come into view.
For those of you not familiar, the Football Association knocked down the old Wembley Stadium, home to the 1948 Olympics, 1966 World Cup Finals, Live Aid in 1985 back in 2003.
Today the match is a Rugby Premiership match between the home team Saracens and the visiting London Wasps. An important match with the Wasps on an unbeaten streak and the Sarries grinding out results over the last few weeks, but the main story line is the debut of Gavin Henson after a 21-month absence.
We arrived a full two hours before kick-off and head towards the Club Entrance, we’ve been lucky enough to snag tickets in the Royal Box. Yes, the area that the Royal family would normally sit in when in attendance and it lived up to the impressive name.
On our way in, we walked past a stunning piece of history. Above the walkway hung a crossbar from the 1966 World Cup tournament, proudly hung as a
tribute to the last and only time the motherland of football has hosted the tournament. Walking up the stairs we were thrown a heap of great swag that included a special match-day scarf, supporters flag and programs.
Once inside we are seated in a large dining room, where we await the pre-game show and are treated to a pre-game interview with Saracen star Jacques Burger, who leads his team with 92 tackles but unfortunately is out with an injury.
The pre-game ceremony includes a few bands, but the main attraction is pop star Eliza Doolittle, who she sets the stage for an entertaining afternoon. Soon after the crowd erupts, their stars run onto the pitch and the referee is ready to start the match.
The match begins with both sides playing cautiously, a dull affair to start with neither team scoring a try in the first half. The only scoring comes from teenager Owen Farrell, who kicks the only three points of the half to give the Saracens a 3 – 0 lead at the interval.
Saracens come out flying in the second half, scrum-half Neil De Kock finds flanker Andy Saull, who bowls his way through the line for the score, and Farrell confidently adds the conversion.
With a 10 – 0 lead in hand, the Sarries continue to dominate play and are further sparked by Henson’s introduction. Despite being out of action for 21-months, Henson didn’t miss a beat. He almost makes an instant impact, but he narrowly misses a try, with Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson making the last ditch tackle for his side.
Farrell would add another three points to put the Saracens in a commanding lead, leaving Wasps with only a chance to answer back with penalty kicks. Dave Walder was more than happy to oblige and added his own six points for the Wasps but that was all they could manage, a final score of 13 – 6 on the day.
Just a few minutes remain,“Stand Up, Stand Up for the Saracens” bellowing around the stadium and their fans sounding their approval of a well earned win.
My first experience of the new Wembley has been a positive one and a lively afternoon of Rugby will be forever my first memory there. The 38, 425 passionate,
loud fans who braved the cold Boxing Day weather to cheer on their team etched in my mind.
As I walk away from Wembley, I look back and see the sparkling arc rising across the roof and soak it all in.
All in all, my first experience of the new Wembley is one I’ll never forget.
Check back this week for Henry’s match day report from the Emirates Stadium, where Chelsea FC visit Arsenal in a big four battle.
Henry Whitfield is an avid football fan and you can find his thoughts on sports and more on his blog, or follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield. You can also listen to him on air as a regular contributor to the Bill McLean Sports show on 88.1 CKDU.