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With exactly a year to go until the Rugby World Cup final, the next 12 months will be as vital for England as those that preceeded the final in Paris three years ago – a match that France won. We speak to World Cup-winner Will Greenwood for his views on the year ahead, and pick out our hottest tickets for the upcoming action
Investec Autumn International Series
England’s opening fixture in the autumn internationals is one that sends a shiver down the spine of even the most hardened rugby fan. When the New Zealand team run out onto the pitch at Twickenham in front of 82,000 pumped-up fans on Saturday 6 November, there’ll be silence. You’ll be able to hear a pin
drop as the men in black perform the most feared precursor to a match in sport. Watching the haka live – a Maori war dance performed by the All Blacks for over a century – is one of those moments
in sport that you just don’t forget.
The game is a huge test for England. Having not beaten the All Blacks since the build-up to the 2003 World Cup, the result will say a great deal about their chances for the tournament in 12 months’ time. And like all games in the autumn series, it’s England’s chance to compete with the best teams in the world on home soil.
‘The autumn internationals are fantastic for spectators – it’s the best rugby in the world,’ says Will Greenwood, World Cup winner and ex-British Lion. ‘All the main teams are there to win, and win well. You stick your 50p in the tombola and on any one weekend you’ll draw out a ticket to watch the best players on the planet.’
With there being no autumn Test series next year due to the timing of the World Cup, this will be the last time to catch the southern hemisphere sides playing at Twickenham until 2012. And with less than a month until the series kicks off – and general admission tickets all but sold out – last-minute hospitality packages are the best way to guarantee a seat.
Aside from New Zealand on 6 November, we’d recommend taking a look at the England v Samoa game on 20 November. With the date marking the seventh anniversary of the World Cup win in Sydney, the match is a milestone for England fans. Great prices are being offered for the fixture, with fine dining packages available from Keith Prowse in its pitch-side restaurants, Obolensky’s and Wakefield’s, starting from £379 per person. It’s also opening up Rugby House, which comes complete with a lively rugby club-esque atmosphere, with packages starting at £279. Also appealing is the price of a ticket to the England v Australia game with Mike Burton, which comes in at £495 for lunch and a high-profile speaker.
With all the northern hemisphere sides so evenly matched at the moment, next year’s tournament will be one of the toughest yet. ‘In a World Cup year the 6 Nations are always massive,’ says
Greenwood. ‘It’s all about finding momentum to take to the big event.’ The tournament is significant for several reasons. Firstly, players from all six teams will be competing for a place on the
plane to New Zealand and, secondly, the tournament marks the inaugural match at Ireland’s awesome new Aviva Stadium – the reincarnated Lansdowne Road.
Ireland lift the lid on the Aviva on 13 February against France. A guaranteed 52,000 sell-out, it’ll be the first time Ireland have used the ground in a Test match since moving from their temporary home at Croke Park four years ago. With Les Bleus giving it a dress rehearsal, England will be the second team to play there on the final day in a potential Grand Slam decider on Saturday 19 March. A ticket to Dublin for the match is arguably the corporate invite of the year.
England Rugby Travel (tel: 0844 788 5000) has packages for the trip, offering two nights’ accommodation and guaranteed seats for £649. If you consider that general admission tickets have all but gone and Dublin’s hotels will be cranking up the prices for the weekend, you’d be hard pushed to find a better deal.
Back on home turf, the biggest game at Twickenham will inevitably be against France on 26 February. ‘Without a doubt, England v France is the game of the year,’ says Mike Burton’s head of sales and marketing, Justin Hopwood. ‘It’s always big, but with what’s happened between the two sides in the last few years, it’s going to be massive’.
As Hopwood suggests, there was already a good helping of healthy competition between the two sides, but with so many English players flocking to Gallic soil to make the most of the higher wages, ties between the players are greater than ever.
With the game kicking off at 5pm, hospitality will be taking on a different format to the more usual 3pm starts. Guests will begin arriving later in the day, meaning a more relaxed build up to the match. The food offering after the game will change too, with Mike Burton’s off-site Chase Bridge facility dishing out a delicious, beer-sponging lasagne.
Keith Prowse is offering five on-site facilities for England v France, ranging from the £679-per-person Rugby House, to the £879 Players’ Lounge – the stadium’s flagship facility, where guests have the opportunity to quiz the players after the match, still bruised from battle. The best off-site option is from Mike Burton at Chase Bridge just a couple of hundred yards from the stadium. At £645 for the fine dining package, it’s cheaper, but still of the highest quality.
4 February Wales v England Millennium Stadium 7.45pm
5 February Italy v Ireland Stadio Flaminio 2.30pm & France v Scotland Stade de France 5pm
12 February England v Italy Twickenham 2.30pm & Scotland v Wales Murrayfield 5pm
13 February Ireland v France Aviva Stadium 3pm
26 February Italy v Wales Stadio Flaminio 2.30pm & England v France Twickenham 5pm
27 February Scotland v Ireland Murrayfield 3pm
12 March Italy v France Stadio Flaminio 2.30pm Wales v Ireland Millennium Stadium 5pm
13 March England v Scotland Twickenham 3pm
19 March Scotland v Italy Murrayfield 2.30pm & Ireland v England Aviva Stadium 5pm France v Wales Stade de France 7.45pm
The rugby World Cup
next year will be one of sport’s unique experiences. No other nation has rugby in its blood like the Kiwis as Will Greenwood says: ‘New Zealand is an amazing country; it’s so diverse. And, boy, do
they love rugby. The stadia are dotted all over the country so travelling to watch matches is a great way to see the land.’
It seems that many fans agree, with England Rugby Travel reporting package sales up 37% from the last tournament in the first six weeks. It’s the trip of a lifetime that many fans just can’t miss out on. The entry level package starts at £1,989, which includes 12 nights’ hotel accommodation, transport to and between Dunedin and Auckland, and tickets to England’s last two group games. To watch all of their games – right through to the final if they make it – takes 46 nights and comes in at £13,999.
Although England’s form is nowhere near the dominance Clive Woodward’s men showed in the build-up to the 2003 win, Martin Johnson’s boys certainly aren’t to be written off. Playing more tournament-format rugby in Europe gives us the edge over the southern hemisphere teams when it comes to the World Cup, which showed in France when England were narrowly beaten in the final after a pretty sorry year.
With some of the hottest talent around, it’s worth looking out for some of the names set to do big things in New Zealand this time next year. ‘Tom Croft has potential to be one of the best in the world,’ says Greenwood. ‘If Phil Dowson and Chris Robshaw have good years, we’ve got a lot to be excited about.’
And what does Greenwood think of our chances of lifting the trophy again? ‘It’ll be one of the toughest campaigns yet, but I can see us getting to the semi-final, no problem.’
Will Greenwood is available for hosting, after-dinner and keynote speeches. For more information on Greenwood or other rugby talent, contact Benchmark Sport on 020 7240 7700