Saracens 20 Northampton Saints 24 – Premiership Final – Twickenham by Mike Miles
“A bomb under the West car park at Twickenham on an international day would end fascism in England for a generation,” wrote George Orwell before the Second World War. Whether the politics of those bastions of middle England have developed in the period since is open to question, but certainly the architecture on this site that was once a humble cabbage patch, before the RFU purchased the land for just over £5,500 in 1907, has come a long way. When it hosted its first international in 1910 against Wales “HQ” could accommodate just 20,000 spectators. Today it seats an impressive 82,000, making it the largest dedicated rugby union venue in the world. Legend has it there are 17 lifts, 6,400 steps (easy to believe as I recovered from the climb to my Upper Tier seat) and 160exits,all of which were hit by Sarries supporters with Ashton-esque pace at the end.
Twickenham crowds can and do complain. Watching England they chunter. In truth, perhaps fan is the wrong term for the England rugby watcher. Fan implies a degree of loyalty, an almost slavish support for the often useless, but at Twickenham there is often displayed a sense of entitlement that may well be in keeping with rugby’s origins.
When Andy Robinson/Martin Johnson’s England were rumbling through their very average gears the Twickenham experience used to be a case of drinking Twickenham town centre dry and then walking up to the game, piling in minutes before kick-off. But at the moment there is real excitement around the England team, something which has been the norm in club finals for years.
There are few certainties in modern-day life, but there used to be one in English rugby: if you wanted to be crowned Premiership champions then you had to beat Leicester Tigers in the final. Then Northampton Saints went and beat the Tigers by the narrowest possible, single-point, margin in their semi-final, and so ensured the first Premiership Rugby Final since 2004 without the Tigers.
It was the last day of the domestic season and one of firsts. Northampton had never won the Premiership before, while the final had not witnessed extra time in the 12 years of the play-offs. In a gruelling contest which was only decided when prop Alex Waller claimed a try from under a pile of bodies after the countdown clock had reached zero, the Saints were first among equals. Was it on the line? Was the pass forward? Is the paint on a rugby post the sort of margin by which a nine-month campaign should be decided? All of these questions and more might have swirled around the head of this neutral during this extraordinary climax to a domestic season. But to hell with neutrality. This was extraordinary drama, and who is to say the Saints do not deserve to be crowned champions for the first time. Back in September I witnessed Northampton begin their Premiership campaign with a 39-11 demolition of Exeter at Franklins Gardens back in September. It therefore seemed fitting, nine months later, to see them win the final in the 100th minute with a ball that may or may not have kissed the white line.
What your Twickenham-goer makes of the game-day experience must be a subjective thing, though a hassle-free journey to and from the stadium using public transport still seems a far-flung fantasy.