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

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 -

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.

Open­ing cer­e­mony

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

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