Ruck and Maul: Non-rugby fans are a shower as plastic bottles rain on kids

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The Independent Online

There must have been a few anxious glances among Twickenham grandees at the "Heroes Concert" last Sunday when Bruce Forsyth opened the fund-raising show by initiating a Mexican wave. All good fun, of course, and it is safe to assume Brucie (right) was unaware of the previous weekend's antics at the London Double Header. During the second match, Wasps v Harlequins, a wave went through at least three circuits of the stadium accompanied by a hailstorm of hundreds (possibly thousands) of objects flying in the air – principally the cardboard trays used to carry plastic glasses and which double excellently as Frisbees – and spectators showered in drink. BBC London's rugby programme The Scrum received 30 emails and 20 texts on the subject during the following Thursday's transmission, and pages on the four London clubs' supporters' websites were full of comment. Reaction ranged from the amused and unconcerned to the disgusted and outraged, particularly from those close to children hit by plastic bottles. Regular-season club matches at Twickenham and Wembley have been attracting huge attendances, and one club source told Ruck and Maul that many of those attending are there for a day out and are not regular rugby followers. Richard Knight, the RFU's Twickenham Stadium director, appeared to concur, saying in a statement: "It is worth pointing out that direct ticket sales through the clubs were around 40,000 or so [out of a 75,000 attendance for the double header] which means a large number of the crowd were perhaps newer to rugby and taking advantage of the attractive prices and lack of other sporting events in London that day." Knight said the union would examine alternatives to drinks trays and "sponsor marketing materials" (such as cards bearing the word "try") and promised "clear actions before the internationals in November to try to prevent this happening again". It has been eight years since drinking alcohol in the stands at Twickenham was permitted again after a ban in 1998. Knight said: "We host a large number of games during the season where the bars are open throughout the game – and in some cases such as the London Sevens throughout the day – and we do not have this sort of behaviour. While alcohol may have exacerbated the situation it wasn't the cause of this unfortunate event."

Kick-offs are end of world

No surprises in the kick-off times for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand announced last week. The big pool matches involving the home unions will be late in the evening Down Under, and therefore at around 9am UK time, although the quarter-finals potentially involving Wales and Ireland will be at a bacon-butty-busting 6am. And no shock either that the poor bloody infantry – the likes of Namibia, Georgia, USA and Russia – have again been handed horrendous itineraries. The mathematics of playing in four pools of an uneven number of teams (five) always guarantees someone will have to back up rapidly from match to match, but first-time qualifiers Russia face four Tests in 17 days from 15 September (v USA) to 1 October (v Australia). Namibia face Fiji on 10 September and Samoa four days later, then South Africa on 22 September and Wales on the 26th. The top six established unions all have at least five days between matches. So much for encouraging the very countries in which the World Cup is supposed to be propagating the game.

Trying times for McCaw & Co

The Tri-Nations occupy the top three places in the IRB world rankings, followed by France, England and Ireland, but the southern hemisphere is following one example from the north – flogging players like pit ponies. Where once Richie McCaw (left) and friends luxuriated in a 13-match Super 12 season, followed by two or three incoming tour matches, four Tests in the Tri-Nations and three or four matches on an end-of-year jaunt, things have changed. The Tri-Nations has expanded to six matches per team, midweek games have been added to the European tours, and the schedule just announced for the expanded Super 15 increases the number of matches by a third from 94 to 125, with three more per team, and the number of weeks from 16 to 21 next year, with the final in July instead of May. Three nationally-based conferences include for the first time home-and-away matches between teams from the same country.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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