Lon­don game will break in new lo­ca­tion

Giants will duel Rams in 107-year-old rugby sta­dium

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Zac Boyer

Twick­en­ham Sta­dium has seen its share of tack­les and tries, field goals and for­ward passes.

The NFL is about to bring some more, but with a twist.

A sport­ing event other than rugby will be held at the venue for the first time in its 107year his­tory when it hosts a game be­tween the Los An­ge­les Rams and the New York Giants on Sun­day.

After play­ing 15 games over 10 years at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium, the league is slightly broad­en­ing its in­ter­na­tional hori­zons, mov­ing one of its an­nual in­ter­na­tional games to a dif­fer­ent Lon­don lo­ca­tion.

For­get about scrums and say hello to hud­dles. Keep an eye out for yel­low flags, not yel­low cards.

Even for those who have made the trek to Wem­b­ley, Sun­day’s game will pro­vide a dif­fer­ent type of at­mos­phere. Think of it, in Amer­i­can terms, as Lam­beau Field meets Wrigley Field.

“Twick­en­ham is def­i­nitely a sub­ur­ban, res­i­den­tial venue, and so it of­fers a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for fans,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for in­ter­na­tional. “I think it’s go­ing to

be fas­ci­nat­ing and in­ter­est­ing for our fans to give us feed­back on how that ex­pe­ri­ence will com­pare to what many of them will al­ready have seen and known at Wem­b­ley.”

To pre­pare Twick­en­ham for Sun­day’s game, the NFL and the Rugby Foot­ball Union had to make a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant changes.

For one, with foot­ball rosters twice the size of their rugby coun­ter­parts, the ex­ist­ing locker rooms will be in­suf­fi­cient. The Rams, the des­ig­nated home team, will dress in a tem­po­rary

fa­cil­ity in the Twick­en­ham gym, while the Giants will uti­lize an ad­ja­cent re­cep­tion hall.

The coach­ing booths, lo­cated just above the ac­cess tun­nels for rugby games, will be moved to the sixth level to pro­vide coaches with an ap­pro­pri­ate view­point. Those con­verted suites also will need to be fit­ted with re­play and com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems — some­thing the NFL and RFU have been work­ing to in­stall.

Ac­com­mo­da­tions will also be needed for cheer­lead­ers and the me­dia, who will work from three sec­tions in the south­west cor­ner. Be­cause of the sta­dium’s lo­ca­tion, a de­tailed trans­porta­tion plan is also

needed for buses trans­port­ing play­ers and team per­son­nel to and from Twick­en­ham.

Some of those changes will be no­tice­able to long­time Twick­en­ham at­ten­dees. In ad­di­tion to the goal posts, which were in­stalled last Mon­day, and the field mark­ings, to be painted later this week, the ca­pac­ity of the sta­dium will be re­duced from 82,000 to 75,000 for NFL games.

Ac­cord­ing to Char­lotte Har­wood, an RFU spokes­woman, that’s be­cause views from the front sev­eral rows of the lower bowl rise just above field level and will be ob­structed by play­ers and coaches on the side­lines.

The goal, of course, is to

make sure that any po­ten­tial is­sues have been ad­dressed by Sun­day. Those at­tend­ing the first games at Wem­b­ley — the Giants, coin­ci­den­tally, played in the first game in Lon­don in 2007 — re­ported a num­ber of hic­cups that were ironed out in sub­se­quent years.

Waller said the RFU’s ex­pe­ri­ence host­ing the semi­fi­nals and fi­nal of the Rugby World Cup in 2015, has eased a num­ber of con­cerns about the venue.

“It’s an im­por­tant event for them in the same way that it’s an im­por­tant event for us,” Waller said. “They’re very fo­cused on it be­ing suc­cess­ful as well.”

The Rams, who flew through the night after a 3128 road loss to the Detroit

Lions, ar­rived in Lon­don early Mon­day. Per the terms of their relocation from St. Louis, they will play at least one home game in Lon­don ev­ery year un­til their new sta­dium opens in 2019.

That game is not guar­an­teed to al­ways be at Twick­en­ham. The league and the RFU reached an agree­ment last Oc­to­ber to play a min­i­mum of three games in three years at the venue, but not nec­es­sar­ily one each sea­son.

The NFL also has agree­ments to play at least two games at Wem­b­ley each year through 2020 and will be­gin play­ing at least two games a year at the re­de­vel­oped White Hart Lane, the home of English Premier League club Tot­ten­ham,

be­gin­ning in 2018.

Thus, how suc­cess­ful Sun­day’s game is could play a role in the NFL’s fu­ture at Twick­en­ham. Waller said the league isn’t con­sid­er­ing games at any other venues in Lon­don, and the rea­son Twick­en­ham and White Hart Lane were con­tracted is be­cause Wem­b­ley hosts a num­ber of other events.

“The most ex­cit­ing thing for us is the abil­ity for us to get a new ex­pe­ri­ence, a new sta­dium ex­pe­ri­ence,” Waller said. “We’re very happy and have al­ways been very happy with Wem­b­ley, and so for us, it’s never been about look­ing for some­thing bet­ter than Wem­b­ley. It’s, ‘Hey, we need to give our fans the best ex­pe­ri­ence avail­able.”’


Ar­gentina’s Ma­tias Ale­manno, top left, gath­ers the ball as Aus­tralia’s Sekope Kepu reaches out dur­ing The Rugby Cham­pi­onship game be­tween Ar­gentina and Aus­tralia at Twick­en­ham Sta­dium in Lon­don on Oct. 8.

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