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Early kick-off makes for a memorable return to rugby heartland

Date

Greg Growden

MONDAY MAUL

Just like the old days … Saturday's Allianz Stadium crowd for the Wallabies-Wales Test revelled in the atmosphere ...

Just like the old days … Saturday's Allianz Stadium crowd for the Wallabies-Wales Test revelled in the atmosphere of afternoon football at Moore Park. Photo: Getty Images

Several hours before Test kick-off, Robbie Deans headed to the SCG to talk at a function. A young boy, with his face painted in national colours, was walking towards Deans. The youngster suddenly looked up, saw the Wallabies coach and appeared in a state of shock. He stopped in his tracks, and screamed: ''Oh my god! Oh my god! I can't believe it. It's Steve Waugh.''

Deans almost doubled over in laughter and was even impressed that in the eyes of one imp he resembled someone who he admires. After all, Deans is a cricket tragic.

As with so many others on Saturday afternoon, that stroll to Allianz Stadium from the SCG before the Test was a memorable moment.

Wallabies vs Wales. Allianz Stadium. Action from the game. Click for more photos

Australia complete clean sweep over Wales

Australia edged the third and final Test to take the series 3-0 at Allianz Stadium. Selected Images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com . Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Anthony Johnson

The SCG had been invaded by a sea of green and gold as countless families with children chased past and present Wallabies for autographs, got involved in rugby drills, or just revelled in the fact that for several hours they were allowed to stand on the actual spot where many of Australian sport's most cherished moments occurred. All you could hear was laughter, and people young and old talking about how this fan day had brought them back to NSW rugby heartland.

Then on to a much-anticipated Test match and a game where spectators heard something not experienced at a Sydney international for a long time. As the teams lined up for the national anthems, you could hear a hum around the ground. That happens at an Ashes cricket Test before the first ball is bowled, a State of Origin fixture, AFL final at the MCG, but very rarely at an Australian rugby international. It is more a mute silence or just the clinking of glasses in the corporate boxes. But on Saturday, that ground that even had a few mungos - Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler - among them was humming.

Sadly the Test did not live up to the build-up, primarily because a pedant with a whistle did all he could to hose down everyone, but this sunny Sydney afternoon will still be remembered as the day where rugby may have just won back some lost hearts.

The combination of the Wallabies returning to their original home, excellent promotions where the focus for a change was on making the spectator feel wanted, and a 3pm kick-off was a winner. Hopefully Australian rugby administrators get the hint. Keep doing it. Reserve at least one or two Test matches a year for Moore Park and play it in daylight. The punters love it. The Paddington pubs were again full and talking rugby. Most importantly the kids, which the health of the code relies upon, adore it.

Even Deans was overwhelmed by the occasion. ''What was going on around the ground was just fantastic. It involved the next generation,'' Deans said yesterday. ''What is often missed is the kids who experience such encounters. A Test resolved in the last few minutes in the sunshine, in the daytime, when you're with your family and your friends, well that involves everything which is good about the game. There was so much camaraderie. The Welsh came into our rooms and we mixed. Fantastic. With that, players develop lifelong friendships. That's what the game is all about.''

Also, Allianz Stadium is a perfect venue for afternoon Tests. But for it to be an even better venue involves concerted support from local government figures and agencies. The SCG Trust has impressive plans for the area, including underground car parking, walkways, improving the stadium capacity, erecting a roof over the playing surface and even light rail to the precinct. But for that to happen, it relies upon substantial government funding. Considering how big a success Saturday was, there must be votes in it.

47 comments so far

  • Were you at a different match to me? The atmosphere was as flat as a pancake. As usual, the visiting fans made far more noise than the locals, and the Welsh anthem was sung with gusto while the usual desultory mumbled chorus of "Advance Australia Fair" made me want to hide. Frankly, rugby test matches are wasted on Sydney crowds, and next year's Lions tests, when there are 40,000 Lions fans in the crowd, might give you a better idea of what "atmosphere" is.

    Commenter
    James
    Date and time
    June 25, 2012, 8:54AM
    • I have to agree with the 1st comment that "as usual, the visiting fans made far more noise than the locals"
      I was sitting in the members and they just don't know how to 'fire up' for a game of footy. Polite clapping for penalty goals but no bellowing voices. One chap in front of me remarked that he might need his earmuffs for my screaming to which I replied that this was footy not a night at the ballet!
      All in all, still good to be back at the SFS for an arvo game ... keep it up ARU

      Commenter
      World in Union
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 11:20AM
  • Bring Test Rugby back to Concord Oval

    Commenter
    Hooker
    Location
    Concord
    Date and time
    June 25, 2012, 9:07AM
    • Yes. You might be closer to the action. Yes. The pubs near the ground are great. BUT the Sydney Football Stadium is a decrepit facility. Just ask the hundreds of people caught in the crush before the game trying to get to their respective gates behind the Paddington end of the ground. Just ask the thousands that didn't get to see much of the match because they were stuck in a queue trying get some food, a beer or go to the toilet. Then to top it off, the seats are so close together, you end up getting very friendly with the person next to you - like them or not. I am just glad that I wasn't one of those unfortunates that drove. Greg, you continually promote the SFS but it is second rate. Even the stadium administrators know that anything over 30000 is too much for the place to handle. Before anything else is done, the place needs to be bulldozed and replaced with an acceptable arena with facilities to match.

      Commenter
      Tony
      Location
      Earlwood
      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 9:18AM
      • Homebush killed Rugby Union, now its time for the SFS to re establish the game we all love.
        Paddington was a buzz, every restaurant, bar and cafe was full to the brinm... We are your hardcore supports! keep the games local at the SFS!

        Commenter
        Jpack
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 9:38AM
        • Any Sydney test, other than All Blacks or Springboks should be held at the SFS on a Saturday afternoon. Now all we need to do is fix the laws !

          Commenter
          Foxen
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          June 25, 2012, 9:39AM
          • Jpack:
            Hombush is in the process of killing the Socceroos too:( 30k rattling around inside that mammoth white elephant just kills any chance of a proper footbll atmosphere. I with the FFA would see the light and schedule more Socceroos games at the SFS.

            Commenter
            Kasey
            Location
            Bondi
            Date and time
            June 25, 2012, 11:56AM
        • Such a fantastic occassion, and the game was only a small part of it! Whether it be showing up to the ground with the Welsh choir belting out Tom Jones tunes or the pilgrimmage up to Paddington after the match to share a beer with people decked out in Gold or Red scarves, it reminded us all why Rugby is such a grand lifestyle! Please keep doing this ARU!

          Commenter
          G Dog
          Date and time
          June 25, 2012, 9:40AM
          • @Tony, I drove my family out from the Northern Beaches couldn't of been easier. Left home at 1 pm parked across the road at 1.35pm Walked up to oxford st for a quick beer / pizza with other families then into Bay 18 at 2.50 for kick off. Sure the beer line was bearing on riduculous , but I was with the kids and they were not drinking.It wasnt as if those wanting a beer weren't going to have a few afterwards. When we left it was just as easy to get out once the kids did the running on the field thing and we had another drink next dooor at the entertainment quarter.Like any major event it is all about the planning.
            The worst part of the day was the ref, next time we should just leave him out.

            Commenter
            Mike
            Location
            syd
            Date and time
            June 25, 2012, 9:54AM
            • Bring back Waltzing Matilda we so need that bonding that brings the crowd together, we are laways know as quiet polite crowds we need someone to get us going John Williamson is fantastic!! AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE. By the way Joubert as good a ref as he is missed several crucial decisions like the late tackle on beale that swung the game!

              Commenter
              Col
              Location
              Perth
              Date and time
              June 25, 2012, 11:46AM

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