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This has to be a big year for England. Not our words, but those of head coach Stuart Lancaster, who starts his third year as a manager under pressure after his team bottled a Grand Slam decider against Wales in the last 6 Nations. Critics said the side was too negative, and Lancaster’s coming out fighting: ‘Twelve of the players who were part of the victorious Lions tour are in the [England] squad for the QBE Autumn Internationals. Now is their time to perform and deliver. No excuses.’
To do good on his promise and give fans the fast-paced, running rugby they missed out on last year, he’s picked the most attacking squad England have seen – Christian Wade, Marland Yarde and Kyle Eastmond are rapid.
It’s this kind of rugby that’s seeing tickets snapped up quick: the New Zealand game sold out in June. With the average price of a ticket ringing in at £90 and punters spending around £40 a head on food, drink and memorabilia, the cheapest all-inclusive hospitality packages at £249 look better value than ever.
The big ticket will be against the All Blacks, on 16 November. Sitting pretty as world number ones, the Kiwis have a pool of 50 players, all good enough to compete at elite level. Our pick of the hospitality options for the game is the St George’s Suite, which Keith Prowse is offering at a discounted rate of £729pp +VAT. The package comes complete with a four-course British menu courtesy of star chef Jason Atherton. Guests pick the package for its combination of restaurant-quality food and a buzzing atmosphere – picture 500 mixed-allegiance fans lapping up the atmosphere. It suits small groups too, with tables of four, six, eight and 10 now on offer. ‘We booked two tables of 10 last year for the November matches, but we’ve gone for four this time,’ says Martin Guilbert, from stockbroker Eden Financial. ‘I’ve often found hospitality too stuffy, but this has the ideal balance of atmosphere, top-drawer service and food. We love that you can go to the bar to get drinks, rather than waiting around for table service like at other events.’ Our second must-see match this autumn will be when the boys take on their old rivals the Aussies. Chastened by the recent hammering from the British Lions and in The Ashes, you can expect them to come out fighting on 2 November. The place to book is the Players’ Lounge, where a few of the England team – freshly battered from the game – will hold a candid Q&A with a roomful of well-oiled hospitality guests. It’s £779pp +VAT for the day, which also includes pre-match bubbly, a five-course lunch and some food after the game to help you soak up the booze. The upmarket take on steak and ale pies, lasagne and chicken curries with naan bread will help to fill a gap and it means you can avoid the post-match scrum for a burger and a pint outside the stadium. The third game is against the Argentinians on Saturday 9 November. Of all the fixtures in the series, this is our pick for first-timers. It may be a little less prestigious, but the chance to see England win is high and it’s the most reasonable – over 30% cheaper than the NZ meet – of all the options. Our choice is the Rugby House package in the South Stand. For £399pp +VAT Keith Prowse is offering four courses, all the usual trimmings, and a guest pre-match speaker for suites with over 100 guests. Menus haven’t been released yet, but our guess is that there will be a little nod to the opposition with some top-notch steak.
Once the Southern Hemisphere sides depart in late November, all eyes will turn to 2014’s 6 Nations. England’s biggest game at home will be against Ireland, on 22 February. With the best travelling support of all six sides, it’ll make for a lively atmosphere. Make sure to check out Obolensky’s in the East Stand, which, for £849pp +VAT, is offering hard-to-beat pitch-side dining. You will be pleased to be on the right side of the glass when the February weather bites. Wales have a chance to upset England again on 9 March. After the drubbing they received last year, England’s new guard are tasked with fighting off the favourites during the penultimate round, in what’s tipped to be the title decider. With Lancaster promising a free-flowing, fluid new style, the fans are hoping that his ‘Champagne rugby’ brings performances that warrant uncorking the fizz. For a fixture with such ingrained rivalry, we like The Experience Club, keenly priced at £399pp inc VAT. It is by far the cheapest of the all-inclusive hospitality options at this match, with no dress code and a laidback, rugby club-style atmosphere, so it’s absolutely spot-on for big, vocal groups of mixed allegiances
Fresh from winning this autumn’s BMW Square Meal Best New Restaurant for his Social Eating House, Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton returns to Twickenham’s St George’s Suite this season. He will feed hospitality clients at the big two QBE Autumn Internationals, as well as England’s home 6 Nations matches against Ireland and Wales. Earlier this year Square Meal’s head of Venues & Events Graham Hill popped along to the Calcutta Cup – England v Scotland – clash to check out what he had to offer. With the Atherton brand projected on the walls of the split-level room, guests talked as much about the prospect of the food as they did the rugby. Simon Townsend, MD of Everest Roofing said: ‘As a big rugby fan who also likes good food, this package stood out for us this year. I remembered Jason Atherton being a winner on the Great British Menu.’ Lunch kicked off with a memorable potted ham hock with mustard, parsley, spiced pear chutney and toasted sourdough bread. Laid out in true Atherton style – assiduously organised on a wooden platter – it echoed the small-plate ethos of his first solo restaurant Pollen Street Social, which itself was BMW Square Meal Restaurant of the Year in 2011. The menu followed the day’s Caledonian theme with a chargrilled Scotch beef fillet, complemented with slow-cooked ox cheek, celeriac two ways, carrots and a red wine sauce.
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This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, autumn 2013.