Sevens heaven

Two more tickets landed in our red box last night when we returned from a full day at Twickenham, the home of British rugby in London. We left in bright London sunshine and returned in balmy dusk, having had an amazing new experience in this city.

We were two of the world record crowd of over 54,000 at the first day of an international 7s rugby tournament, one in which our Saffa team – the Springboks – feature in the top four in the current standings, having being world champions in the 2008/09 season. It was too exciting to see our boys in green running on to the pitch to take on a series of rivals throughout the day: sixteen teams from around the world take part, namely New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Argentina, USA, Canada, Russia, Argentina, South Africa, Kenya, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, England and Wales. South Africa was ranked fourth at the beginning of this, the penultimate match of the series.

Our boys in green - Springboks, otherwise known as blitzbokke

The day was much like a festival of rugby, with a wonderful, colourful atmosphere for the entire day. A beach party theme encouraged more than half of the fans to arrive at Twickenham dressed for a day at the beach … some sharing a little more than they should, others – like the guy in a Speedo and mankini – causing more than a little trauma for fellow spectators. Grass skirts and paper flower garlands around necks and heads predominated the fancy dress, while there were a number of pirates (?), lobsters, sombrero-and-poncho-wearers, ice-cream cones, sailors, mermaids, many silly hats, painted faces, men in tutus and one guy dressed as a London bobby sans trousers. I guess some people just have fancy dress that they will wear regardless of the theme! There was way too much flesh on display, although the weather was just magical. One fan took that to the extreme by running on to the field, dropping his kit entirely and running around the field in his birthday suit. I did feel sorry for the security team who had to stop him…

Colourful fans abound at Twickenham

The rugby, which was brilliant and hugely entertaining, continued relentlessly through the day. South Africa won two of its three matches of the day, which means it went through to the quarter final of the cup event today, and we wait to see what happens next. The home crowd went ballistic when the England squad appeared in front of our stand to warm up – grown men stood and applauded spontaneously, some almost wept with pride as their team ran up and down the width of the rugby field to prepare for their first pool game.

When England did appear for their first match, they were welcomed onfield by a swathe of red-and-white-clad young dancers, bearing St George flags. The crowd, to a man, jumped to their feet, screamed and applauded with excitement as the home side made their first appearance. The young men in front of us who, like many of their contemporaries, viewed the day as an excuse to go “on the p***” as they say here, actually paid attention to the game and jumped up every time England scored. Much lager was spilled underfoot, but who cares when your team is on the field?

The red-and-white girls provided much entertainment throughout the day and, for the most part, not in the way they intended. A group of them lined themselves along the stepped aisle in our [north] section and within seconds, there were comments flying about relating to one of the young women who, some said, “clearly has her head on facing the wrong way”.

I couldn’t work out who they were talking about, until my eyes fell on a beautiful young blonde woman who was standing, with her hands on her hips and her elbows pointing forwards at an angle that would make your eyes water. Oblivious to the comments about her strange joints, the young woman smiled and carried on regardless. Every time the dancing girls appeared thereafter, the guys behind us would say, “Look! There’s funny elbow lady!” or “Miss Bingo Wings again!”

As the day progressed, and the lager flowed, everything seemed to be that much funnier. And louder. A tartan tam’o’shanter-wearing supporter seated behind us, came staggering back up the steps towards his mates. As he approached, one of his friends shouted, “Oi, ‘ow you gettin’ on, McBain?” The young hat-wearer stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips (luckily his elbows faced the right way), and melodramatically said, “Ye can tek ma land, but ye can neverrrrr tek ma fridom!”

His would-be Scottish accent was horrible, a fact not overlooked by one of his mates who said, “Yeah, especially given that you’re Jamaican!”

We noticed an interesting quirk in the way Twickenham supporters responded to the different teams and matches played throughout the day. Generally, with the exception of national fans from the other countries, the crowd favoured any team that was the underdog in any match. Or any team playing France.

England came on to play France in what could best be described – historically – as a grudge match. Throughout the match, fans sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – the song that has become an anthem for English rugby – and hearing that, in the midst of a 54,000 strong crowd, really gave me goosebumps. My sentimentality was interrupted by desperate pleas from a guy behind us, who yelled “DO something!” as France gained ground throughout the match. France narrowly defeated the home side, much to the horror of one English fan behind us who shouted, “Let’s not forget what happened at Agincourt!”

Patriotic welcome for the England team and its opponents

It was a wonderfully fun and entertaining day, and one I’d definitely love to repeat next year. Witnessing how teams warmed up together and left the field together was quite moving. Many teams held on to each other as they withdrew to the dressing room between warm-up and match.

The New Zealand 7s team walk back to the dressing room, holding on to each other - I loved this spirit of team

We travelled to Twickenham crammed in a train full of colourfully-dressed fans, walked to the stadium in the midst of equally colourful and chirpy fans. Our return journey was slightly less crammed, but with fellow travelling fans in sentimental, almost maudlin, mood. I think today will dawn with many throbbing heads, but I’m pretty sure Twickenham will be equally full and do an equally brisk trade in sales of alcohol. I hope our Saffa team continues to do us proud. Go blitzbokke!

Sunshine signing off for today!

Twickenham in the dusk
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42 thoughts on “Sevens heaven

  1. Ooooh! Me first! Wonderful photos and such an affectionate commentary , Sunshine, thank you so much. Some of our most intelligent and successful men turn into something quite different at our rugby matches, with hilarious consequences. I loved “DO something!” especially. I feel like that about three times every day….and Agincourt….well. who can forget it?

    1. Thanks, Kate – glad you enjoyed my commentary! It was such a wonderful day, really fun. And yes, having watched our sons play school rugby for around 12 years, I agree with you about what men do at rugby matches – hilarious, and scary!

  2. Excuse my American ignorance. Rugby? What kind of game is that? Do they try to capture the other side’s carpet? Anyway that’s a really cool statue. It looks like they are reaching for the stars ! Is getting a star how you get points? Their arms do not look THAT long.

    1. Hmmm, where to start to explain rugby, Carl? It’s similar to your American football, in some small way, I think. It’s a game played with two 15-a-side teams, one odd-shaped ball, a referee and two linesmen. The idea is to push your opponents out of the way enough to run to the other end, with the ball, and touch the ball down on the tryline. You can throw the ball to a team-mate, but only backwards, and there are line-outs and scrums and penalties and short-arm penalties for any rule transgression, of which there are plenty in an 80 minute match. When your team scores a try, you earn five points. If the try is “converted” – ie kicked successfully through the uprights – you earn an additional two points. I think my sons would laugh at my description of the game, but I guess that’s it in a nutshell. Hairpulling is not permitted, and yes, I guess they do try to reach for the stars. 🙂

      1. Thanks for explanation. I do have a little understanding of the game. I was trying to remain true to form with my impertinent foolishness.

  3. Love your description of the crowds and the game. I remember the “Streakers” of the 70’s. Naked bodies running through sporting events. Hope your team does well. Jeanne

    1. I know, Jeanne – I really thought streakers were so last century! But clearly not. Alcohol + sporting events = streaking! 🙂
      It was a really fun day – the crowds and everything happening around us as much as the rugby!

  4. You can´t beat a sunny day and some great matches at Twickenham. Am feeling quite homesick reading your post. Sounds like it was a fab day. And of course, I think having a streaker is obligatory there isn´t it?!

    1. It was a fab day – beautiful sunshine and a whole day full of fun! I guess the streaking is an obligatory element of the day … so much sun and alcohol and excitement, it was just a matter of time before someone showed his appreciation by taking his kit off! How funny and odd! Sorry to make you homesick … will you be visiting London again soon?

  5. Sounds like a magical day, Sunshine! I love that the crowd was dressed like a beach theme. How fun!

    It reminds me of our Mermaid Parade which is held on the summer solstice in Coney Island. Everyone comes dressed in some kind of “sea” garb – mermaids (and mermen 🙂 ) Poseidon, lobsters, starfish – you name it. Like the crowd at the rugby match, usually people are showing off more skin than they should be. 🙂 If I go this year, I’ll have to snap some photos for you.

    1. Hey Judith, do yourself a favour and go along to a sevens tournament – it’s such fun! That youtube clip is hilarious – especially as they call it “Sevens heaven”! – and that’s exactly what Twickenham looked and sounded like yesterday! I was chuffed to see the SA flag flying a couple of times in that clip – thanks for sharing it!

  6. Here in SA we seem (this is what I hear anyway – not a rugby fan myself) to support any team playing Australia!

    The Sevens tournament used to come to George every December, but it seems to have outgrown the little George stadium.

  7. Sounds like a lot of fun, Sunshine. Rugby isn’t a big sport here in the States, but we caught a bit of a 7s rugby tournament on TV a while back, and I was hooked. It’s a lot more exciting that American football.

    1. It was, Todd – such a great day! It’s a very exciting game to watch – I can see how you got hooked! USA had a team in the tournament over the weekend, as did Canada!

  8. Wow that sounds like a hoot! And streakers to boot! Sounds like a great experience that whether you understood rugby or not could be savored. Love reading your descriptions!

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Being American and a baseball fan, I have only a small understanding of what it means to be English at a rugby match. This was a delightful window into a completely different world – thank you!

  10. Playing catch-up here and enjoyed this, especially the Agincourt reference, as my college specialty was medieval history, particularly English — not to mention my beloved loves rugby, which he played in his youth.

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