Monday, 11 June 2012

Picture special: Australia v Wales

Our stay in Brisbane coincided with the first rugby union Test of a three-match series between Australia and Wales. The tourists arrived as the Six Nations champions, billed as the best side in the northern hemisphere, while the Wallabies were under severe scrutiny from the Australian media after losing to Scotland four days earlier. Our base in the city was within walking distance of Brisbane's magnificent Suncorp Stadium, so I booked tickets.

This was an interesting clash of sporting cultures. Wales are fiercely proud of their rugby union heritage and the national team easily sells out the cavernous Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, something the football team has rarely achieved since the ground was opened in 1999. On the other hand, union is well down the pecking order in Australia. Football (Aussie Rules), cricket, rugby league and soccer (football) all command more column inches and TV time. Despite this, the Wallabies are always among the favourites when the World Cup comes around and their autumn visits to the UK and Ireland continue to inflame the passions.

They proved a big draw in Brisbane, too. A crowd in excess of 42,000 filled most of Suncorp Stadium, which will be absolutely pumping when Queensland and New South Wales smash each other to bits in the final State of Origin game on July 4.

The gleaming Suncorp Stadium begins to fill as the players warm up

Who says men can't multi-task?
National Anthems. It has to be said 'Land Of My Fathers' is a spine-tingler.

First blood to the Wallabies
Scrum time
A red wave of attacking intent begins to gain momentum
The tourists kicked their way back into contention...
...but this converted try got Australia across the line

To put some meat on the bones, Australia opened up a 20-6 lead and looked to be in total control. An Alex Cuthbert try got Wales back in the game and two penalties by Leigh Halfpenny made it a 'one point ball game' going into the closing stages, before the Wallabies settled matters with their third try of the evening.

I had never been to a rugby game before and judging by the number of people explaining the rules to their friends during play, I wasn't alone. All around us, different accents could be heard above the general hubbub; American, Scottish, Kiwi and Irish to name a few.

All in all, my first foray into the rugby union world had been enjoyable. Now get me to Twickenham.

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