How Twickenham just about got it right on its big opening night
Only Hawk-Eye could bring such a slick start to a halt, Ben Rumsby writes at Twickenham
Getting everyone in
Tournament organisers’ efforts to ensure everyone was inside Twickenham to watch the opening ceremony paid off – just about. One of their biggest fears came to pass when a Twickenham-bound train broke down at Richmond shortly before Friday night rush hour, causing delays of 25 minutes to those behind it. But plenty of ticketholders had already decided to travel early and the nightmare scenario of a half-empty stadium – images of which would have been beamed around the world – was averted.
There were still a smattering of empty seats during the opening ceremony and the notoriously unreliable Twickenham lifts played up again. Indeed, Australia’s World Cup-winning captain John Eales was stuck in one for more than half an hour. Some of the corporate hospitality guests, who were entertained in temporary structures in the Twickenham car park, rather than within the stadium, were said to be far from amused.
Veterans of Twickenham will have never seen the like. The inevitable rendition of Swing Low, Sweet
Chariot got the crowd warmed up as they began taking their seats, and the The Daily Telegraph’s own Will Greenwood did an impressive turn before the party really got under way with a stadium-wide singalong to Sweet Caroline.
But the most spine-tingling sound of the evening came during the opening ceremony, when Martin Johnson was introduced as England’s representative in a lineup of World Cup legends from each of the 20 competing nations. Chants of “Johnno” followed for a clearly moved Johnson. Perhaps it was all too emotional because, following a deafening rendition of God Save the
Queen, the crowd decided to drown out the Fiji “haka” by striking up
Swing Low again, which did not go down well on social media.
Any fears the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony would compare poorly with that of the London Olympics were allayed, despite it being over in a matter of minutes. It was every bit as engaging, thanks to Kim Gavin, who was also artistic director of the Olympic and Paralympic Games closing ceremonies.
Everything seemed to run like clockwork and the crowd appeared genuinely enthralled. There was one moment when the giant World Cup ball in the middle of the pitch looked like it might not be fully unveiled, but nobody’s perfect. Prince Harry’s opening line of “Welcome to Twickenham” was right out of the Lord Coe quotes manual and, like Johnson, the passionate rugby fan looked moved by the occasion.
He also provided the now-obligatory mention of Nelson Mandela but got his biggest cheer when he mentioned “that drop-kick in 2003”.
One of the key goals of the Rugby Football Union since England was awarded the World Cup has been to use it to attract a new audience to the game. The opening ceremony picked this up and ran with it,
with George Mpanga taking centre stage. Billed as “George the Poet”, Mpanga, who was born to Ugandan parents, gave a speech espousing the values of rugby before rapping alongside Laura Wright as she sang the Rugby World Cup’s theme song,
World in Union.
Prince Harry summed it up when he said: “Across the country, regardless of age, background or beliefs, this nation, which gave rugby to the world in 1823, will join together and celebrate the game like never before.”
Despite the match being at the stronghold of English rugby, England Rugby 2015’s sports presentation package was unveiled in full to ensure anyone attending who was unfamiliar with the game felt involved. Big-screen explanations of some of rugby’s more esoteric rules were played before kick-off, while the Referee Radio channel for novices did a decent job explaining the game without being too patronising. In fact, it may not have been patronising enough.
And it was all going so well. HawkEye was meant to speed up television match official decision-making but it did anything but. South African referee Jaco Peyper and TMO Shaun Veldsman seemed to take an age to come to blindingly obvious decisions that required only one or two viewings.
The first involved a possible tiptackle on Jonny May, which everyone in the stadium could see was a penalty but no more after one replay. Peyper could be forgiven for failing to spot Nikola Matawalu losing the ball before touching down for Fiji, something a replay of the “try” clearly showed. But then Veldsman appeared to want several looks at it before it was ruled out.
The farce continued moments later when Nemani Nadolo scored right in front of the touch judge but Peyper went upstairs again and Veldsman ate up more needless seconds repeatedly checking the footage.
Starting with a bang: the brief opening ceremony engaged an ebullient crowd