Rugby Union: Why you can't transplant rugby's soul: John Hopkins on an unfamiliar setting for international rugby

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The Independent Online
TWICKENHAM to Wembley. A few miles across west London but it might have been a journey across continents. From the most famous rugby ground in the world to football's most distinguished citadel.

'Daddy, daddy, were you there when they played rugby at Wembley?'

'Yes, son, I was. It was 1980, a one-off tournament among the senior clubs. There was one spectator at one end of the ground and another at the other end.

'I wasn't there when England played Scotland during the war. But I was there again yesterday for the game against Canada.'

'How was it?'

'All porcelain lavatories and hot air machines to dry your hands. Not much laughing and joking. Didn't hear any singing in the queues. No soul.'

There is a special atmosphere at Twickenham. It begins the moment you emerge from the railway station at Twickenham and make your way slowly towards the famous ground.

In the car park there will be any number of picnics centred around car boots. The weather doesn't matter. The cold? What cold? If you're cold, have another drink.

There was none of this yesterday. Wembley looks as though it is set in the middle of an industrial area. It is set in the middle of an industrial area, and Wembley Way is the main artery. It is hard to get enthusiastic about a picnic when you park in the basement of a four-storey car park.

Not much chance to enjoy champagne, red wine and pate when the pervading smell is from fish and chips, sausage and chips, chicken and chips, hamburgers and chips. Chips with everything in other words.

How was it for you, Will Carling was asked when England's captain emerged from the changing rooms?

'Lovely surface, good atmosphere,' he replied. 'It was very fast and the pitch was wider than at Twickenham. At least that's what they told us.'

That wasn't the only difference. 'A warm welcome to Wembley for the England team' came the announcement over the public address. What about Canada. Weren't they welcome?

At Twickenham the teams are not announced Christian name and surname, player by player as they run on to the pitch.

If you looked carefully you could detect the centre circle still etched on the pitch, a leftover from England's World Cup game against Norway three days earlier. Nor at Twickenham is the number of spectators broadcast midway through the game. 'The attendance is 39,737,' said the cheery announcer. Not bad. They'd only had 50,000 midweek.

There was the regular appeal to spectators to stay off the pitch at the end of the game. What happened? As the sound of his voice died away, hundreds were clambering over the perimeter fencing and soon the pitch resembled a polo pitch between chukkas with every one treading in the divots.

And so Wembley changed sports again. From rugby to boxing. Off with Will Carling and Norm Hadley. On with Frank Bruno and Pierre Coetzer.

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