The rugby World Cup doesn’t get under way until September, but the excitement is already building as the world prepares to see the All Blacks defend their trophy. Demand for tickets has been nothing short of phenomenal and 2014 saw over five million applications for tickets lodged. Inevitably the demand was out of whack, and as many as three million of those hopeful fans will unfortunately miss out.
For the lucky minority of Kiwi fans who were able to get a ticket, the fly in the ointment is that they will have a fair bit of travelling to do if they are to follow Ritchie McCaw and company. The All Blacks, who are hot favourites (13/10 with Bet365) in the betting for the tournament, will play their first two Pool C matches in London (against Argentina on Sunday 20 September at Wembley and against minnows Namibia at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday 24). Their third game – against Georgia – will take them across country to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (on Friday 2 October) and they will then travel north to Newcastle to face Tonga a week later.
Whilst London and Cardiff are relatively familiar destinations for All Black supporters, Newcastle will represent a journey into the unknown. Fortunately the trip north will see McCaw and company pass by the now dilapidated old ground at Otley RUFC, scene of an uncomfortable defeat to the English North in 1979. Instead they will take to the field in the grand surroundings of Newcastle United’s 52,000 capacity St James’ Park, a venue with a rich tradition of soccer but almost no rugby history to speak of at all.
That is not to say that Newcastle is not a rugby city. Newcastle Falcons play in the English top flight, but their Kingston Park Ground – capacity 10,200 – is not on the same scale as St James’ Park. Newcastle is without question a soccer city. It is also a destination that will delight travelling supporters.
St James’ Park is unusual in the current English sporting context in that the stadium sits cheek by jowl with the city centre. Raised up on the Gallowgate Hill the stadium itself is one of the defining points on the city’s skyline. And Newcastle city centre itself is not to be missed.
There is a tribal quality to the north east that Kiwis will find familiar – even if the local accent may take getting used to! The locals – ‘Geordies’ to use the vernacular – are fanatical about their sport, but at the same time, not overly serious about it. It makes for one of the great sporting cities.
Newcastle city centre by night is famously engaging. There is nothing quite like a night out in the Bigg Market which, famously, is barely policed at night. The north east boasts a fiercely masculine tradition of sorting out your own strife. Kiwis should find it a thoroughly enjoyable place to watch a game of rugby – irrespective of whether or not they have been able to get their hands on one of those precious tickets.
Featured image by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Image by of stadium by daniel0685