Ruck and Maul: The public love nothing more than a bit of extra festive glitz

 

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The Independent Online

Cricket Tests in Melbourne, 1960s football fixtures of goals galore and Parisian can-can girls laid the groundwork for Tuesday's world-record attendance for a club rugby union match: 82,000 at Twickenham to see Harlequins defeated by Saracens.

The Christmas-time "Big Game" (can we forgive the marketing people the incorrect title – it should of course be 'Big Match'?) began in 2008 with 50,000 in attendance, conceived by the then Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans and inspired by Stade Français filling Stade de France with dancers and fireworks and discounted tickets.

Tony Copsey, now the London Scottish interim chief executive as part of his management consultancy business, was Quins' managing director and marketing boss in 2008. "We'd had a match against Leinster at Twickenham in the Heineken Cup, at a different time of the season and charging full prices, and had 32,000 turn up," Copsey recalled.

"It took a marketing spend of around £100,000 in year one to get the 'Big Game' going but we knew that Boxing Day or thereabouts has historically always drawn big crowds in every sport. Even with tickets at £10 for adults and £5 for kids, I would think Quins cleared £500,000 from Tuesday – double what they would make from a 15,000 sell-out at The Stoop."

Copsey subsequently worked at Wasps, whose St George's Day match at Twickenham two years ago had a 62,000 crowd but has not become as "Big"' as Quins' venture.

There's honour in defeat

Keen rugby supporter Rory McIlroy may reflect that his response to adversity – winning the US Open after a collapse in the Masters – contributed to his award of an MBE in the New Year's Honours but the Ulster fan and Ravenhill season ticket holder has nothing on Chris Paterson's perseverance.

The recently internationally-retired Scotland full-back, suffered a morale-testing 65 losses in his 109 Tests, only two behind the "most-defeated" international player, former Italy scrum-half Alessandro Troncon. But on this happy day of gong-giving – Wales flanker Martyn Williams was another to receive an MBE, while New Zealand's World Cup winning coach Graham Henry emulated Clive Woodward in 2004 by being knighted – let us look on the bright side and record that "Mossie" Paterson has also won more Tests (43) than any other Scot.

Elite threat to local rugby

The two seats reserved for Oxbridge on the Rugby Football Union Council may be under threat following the law firm Slaughter and May's review into the governance of the English game, but Cambridge ties will die hard at Twickenham.

There is Ian Metcalfe, full-back in 1978 and 1979, and now the chairman of the Professional Game Board. And Rob Andrew, the professional rugby director, made his England debut while at Cambridge in 1985.

Meanwhile a less-publicised review is perturbing clubs around the country. Wharton Consulting are looking into the league structure below the Aviva Premiership and second-tier Championship, and some doomsayers suspect it may herald complete regionalisation and the withdrawal of central funding below the two professional divisions.

Money is at issue when, for instance, Tynedale and Blaydon are travelling from the North-East of England to Jersey, and vice versa, in National League One – a cost arguably better spent on facilities and coaching. After a 4am start on the day of the game, Tynedale led 7-3 but tailed off to lose 26-8 to a side vying with Ealing, Fylde and Rosslyn Park for promotion to the Championship.

What the Dickens, Toby?

Where did Toby Flood find time to prepare for Leicester's match v Sale today, busy as he was with playing Pip in BBC's new version of Great Expectations on TV three nights this week. Or was that the England fly-half's extreme lookalike, actor Douglas Booth?

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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