Ruck and Maul: Twickenham's ticketing policy smacks of segregation for fans

 

It is fair to say professional rugby union's worst nightmare is seepage into it of anything regarded as football's most unattractive aspects.

When Clermont Auvergne's scrum-half Morgan Parra collapses in a Hollywood-audition heap, it whiffs of a hint of Didier Drogba.

When Leicester fans at Franklin's Gardens last weekend waved and sang "Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio" to the departing Northampton spectators, was it harmless banter or a step towards something more menacing?

The London Double Header at Twickenham two years ago was disrupted by plastic bottles and drinks trays hurled around during a Mexican wave, and when tickets for the four clubs went on sale for distinct parts of the ground last week, some saw it as segregation. The Premiership quickly countered that they were simply making it possible for people of a similar persuasion to sit together.

Tour de force for the first time

With England, Ireland and Wales each adjusting their recent tour schedules to play three Tests in one country this summer (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia respectively), the stock phrase is "a return to old-style touring". But the idea of playing three Tests in one country is new to England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Historically it was the preserve of the British & Irish Lions, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. France played four Tests in South Africa in 1967 and three in New Zealand (1961, 1968), Australia (1990) and Argentina (1960).

Heineken winning mind Games

All the tourists will be home in time for the Olympics, but the debate endures over the Games' impact around Britain. Ulster's Paddy Wallace tells Ruck and Maul: "The Heineken Cup has been more on our minds. We're a wee bit separated from the buzz over in London."

But he swiftly added: "A few of the teams have training bases in Belfast so we'll show them good hospitality when they're here."

Ulster's tougher trip to the top

Ulster won the European Cup in 1999 with a mostly home-grown team: full-back Simon Mason and flanker Andy Ward both played for Ireland but had strong ties with England and New Zealand. It was the season boycotted by the English clubs plus Cardiff and Swansea; yet Ulster survived two close shaves to win the pool and earn a home quarter-final with Toulouse.

"We played Edinburgh Reivers on the last day of the pool," former centre Jonny Bell recalls. "Craig Chalmers missed a kick in the final minute that would have won it for Edinburgh. Meanwhile over in Wales, Ebbw Vale had somehow beaten Toulouse in a game with a lot of fighting – having lost the reverse fixture by over 100 points."

Ulster beat Toulouse twice and Stade Français once – all in Belfast – before winning the final 21-6 against a third French club, Colomiers, in Dublin. Home wins over Clermont Auvergne and Leicester this season, and a bonus-point defeat in Clermont followed by the 22-16 quarter-final victory at Munster may be judged a more exacting route to Saturday's semi-final against Edinburgh.

Thurrock Ladies packing 'em in

For outstanding teamwork, have a look at the video online of Essex club Thurrock's world-record attempt at the biggest ever scrum. Thurrock Ladies' Mercedes Foy took all season to organise 584 participants to pack down last weekend, beating the previous best of 202.

Foy is expecting ratification from Guinness World Records in the next six weeks.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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