Rugby Union: Photo-Shoot - When fans have more bottle than the teams

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The Independent Online
Cliff Brittle's campaign to turn wine back into water by reimposing amateurism on nine-tenths of English rugby will no doubt find considerable support among the Varsity Match faithful. Many of the 70,000 or so who flocked to Twickenham for Tuesday's student showpiece spend their working lives in the City handling money in vast quantities, so the last thing they need is to see their annual winter booze-up disfigured by a dash for cash around the dreaming spires.

If one time-honoured tradition bit the December mud this week - the Rugby Football Union's insistence on neutral touch judges meant there was no room for last season's captains in their badged and blazered finery - many other Varsity shibboleths appeared in the rudest of health. The car parks were smothered in smoked salmon and awash with half-decent claret, the enthusiasm in the stands was warm and infectious in a sozzled sort of way and the rugby itself was fierce, frantic and flawed.

Some of the, how shall we say, colonial contingent did not play the old game in quite the proper manner; Paul Surridge and Andrew Craig, two outstanding Light Blues from All Black country, were clearly of the opinion that the taking part mattered rather less than the winning and there was even an ungentlemanly front-row bust-up between an American and a New Zealander in the closing minutes. Brian Campsall, the referee, was forced to take the combatants aside for a quiet lecture, no doubt along the lines of: "I say you chaps, cut it out or else."

It may be that the the Cambridge-supporting streaker who brought the second half to an amused standstill was making some sort of symbolic point about a grand occasion being stripped bare of its long-established custom and practice. Or maybe she was fortified by the wine consumed before kick- off. Whatever, she deserved her standing ovation. Everyone gets an ovation in the Varsity Match.

-Chris Hewett

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