ENGLISH rugby is undeniably on the right tracks. The management team has a clear set of objectives, and the team under Chris Robshaw have an admirable team ethic that eschews ego for the greater good. They beat France comprehensively in the end, helped by the odd refereeing aberration and more than the odd bizarre French selection decision. The grand slam awaits in Cardiff.
The great thing about the Six Nations is the places it takes you to, and Cardiff is one of them. That final game will be an occasion when the match is the city and the city is the match. The entire capital will be engulfed in red and white. All roads and all rail lines will lead to the Millennium Stadium. Of course it’s busy, but it’s also very easy.
Which is where Twickenham is not on the right tracks. The Rugby Football Union is spending tens of millions on improving the stadium for the 2015 World Cup, and we can only hope some of it will be allocated towards making getting to and from the place slightly more pleasurable.
The endless shuffling from station to ground, sneaking on to the road to avoid the queue but running the risk of being mown down by an errant van driver. The waiting to cross the A316, knowing that if you’re unlucky, the driver of a Merc who loathes rugby will take great joy in frightening the life out of you as he lurches off the front row of the grid. And if you do go by car, and are “lucky” enough to get a car park pass, the gridlock getting away from Twickers will take a good deal of the gloss off another English triumph.
Of course Twickenham is in the wrong place for a modern stadium, but when Billy Williams planted his cabbage patch more than a century ago, he wasn’t thinking of 80,000 people going to pick his produce.
But for too long mandarins at the RFU have tinkered with the transport links – the odd bus here, a road closure there – without addressing the fundamental issue of establishing a rail link direct to the stadium. Get everybody there. Get everybody out. Away to Richmond and beyond without having to feel they’ve undertaken an assault course. It seemed to have momentum in the dying days of the amateur era but somehow fell by the wayside.
Long-term, imagine if all car parks at Twickenham were available from Monday to Friday for commuters heading up from the south. Leave car. Get train. Go to work. Less stress for all and eco friendly too. And imagine the revenue for the RFU! A few Pret a Manger concessions and they’d be quids in.
And on match day it would make the day. An England game is still not the all-singing, all-dancing experience that everyone would like it to be. Difficult to get to, with bars beneath those cold barren pillars that are hardly welcoming on the most balmy of spring afternoons. When an arctic wind sweeps through them, as on Saturday, a visit to the dentist suddenly seems an attractive option.
The RFU’s new regime has a dynamism and vitality not apparent in many of its predecessors. They must surely understand the urgent need to improve their lines of transportation if Twickenham is to remain a pre-eminent stadium in this country.
John Inverdale’s column is brought to you by QBE, the business insurance specialist. QBE is an Official Partner of England Rugby and Premiership Rugby. For more information, please visit www.qberugby.com.