Early kick-off makes for a memorable return to rugby heartland
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.
Australia complete clean sweep over Wales
Rob Horne makes a clean break. 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.