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Memoirs of a Twickenham Debutante

Eighteen years old and six weeks into my University studies at St Maryís in Twickenham. To this day I maintain that my choice of college had more to do with the courses offered than itís proximity to the home of English rugby. To this day my parents still have their doubts. Even prior to arrival I knew that Australia were coming to town. Here we are then. A perfect chance for my debut visit to see England play in the flesh. A ten minute drive to the ground and a ticket in the old north stand was mine. Saturday November 5th 1988, well, lets hope for some fireworks on the pitch then.

Disaster strikes. In a fit of first year enthusiasm I had signed up for the annual history fieldtrip around the sites of most medieval interest contained in Southern England . Naturally this clashes with match day, and equally naturally I didnít notice this until double booked. Luckily the history Professor is very understanding agreeing that I must get my priorities straight and go watch the men in white, ďalthough you will still pay for your place on the bus of course.....Ē Deciding that this is just the sort of emergency that my newly obtained overdraft was designed for the disaster is averted and the game is on.

The day arrives. Being a sensible chap and having already discovered the futility of attempting to drive around Twickenham on match days I decide to walk. A nice half hour bracing stroll. Just the thing to work up a thirst! Past the traditional landmarks, the Cabbage Patch and the train station to join the milling throng on Whitton Road . Over the A316 and the Stadium looms into sight.

First things first, a quick glance at the program. England look to have a good side, Rendall, Moore, Probyn, Dooley, Richards, Robinson, Andrew and Underwood included. Three new caps in the starting line up, Morris, Ackford and Harriman. A contentious choice of new Captain in the young whippersnapper Carling, only twenty two and the youngest to shoulder this responsibility for fifty years. He may have a future.... Australia also look strong, especially their half back line with Farr-Jones and Lynagh. That bloke Campese can play a bit as well. Just time for a quick couple of pints and then join the procession into the stand early to get a good spot.

At last the kick off. A rapid start. Only seven minutes in a penalty chance for Webb as Australia kill the ball in the ruck. The kick is good, 3-0. Soon after the Australians reply with a try near the posts by their fullback Leeds converted by Lynagh, 3-6. Lynagh kicks again as Morris is caught offside, 3-9. This in all honesty is not the start that I had hoped for although Morris soon makes up for his earlier transgression with a try himself from a Robinson charge down. Webb converts and the score reaches 9-9. With everything evenly balanced at half time I wonder if there is time to nip to the toilets. Given the crowds probably not. Damn those pints that I had, but Iím not missing any of the action.

The crowd surge back into the north as the second half begins. True to form Campese scores on the break, his twenty seventh international try. The man is a genius, although he has been caught a couple of times by the English defence trying this earlier in the match. Lynagh misses the conversion. 9-13. Parity is soon restored as Underwood takes a pass from Andrew and scampers into the corner. Webb also misses his conversion attempt so it is thirteen all. Andrew follows this by crossing the line after he intercepts. Pandemonium reigns as the try is disallowed for a double movement as he grounds. The tension in the ground is now palpable and rising. Underwood forces his way in at the left corner again, try number thirteen for England and his second today. Webb slots the conversion and follows it shortly after with a penalty as Australia again infringe at the ruck. 22-13 and England appear in control until true to form the Wallabies counter with a try by Grant. Lynagh gets the conversion and the massed fans in white just want the agony to end with the final whistle. England still attack. Halliday is set free with a break by Carling and scores his debut try for his country. Webb is once again dependable and adds the conversion, but Carling is down following the last move. He is led from the pitch obviously shaken but he doesnít want to go. This is not the way he should be finishing his first match as captain. 28-19 and the final whistle goes at last. England are victorious, although the final score perhaps flatters them a little.

The crowd begins to disperse and I join them on the reciprocal track back to whence we came. Most head for the train station, others for the pubs of Twickenham to celebrate or drown their sorrows depending on their allegiance, but these or either closed or so overfilled as to deter all but the most determined imbiber. I bide my time eventually popping into the Popes Grotto well on the road back to St Maryís for a swift half or so myself. What a day of high emotion. This may have been my debut, something that on some level I will always share with Ackford, Morris and Harriman, but I am now an addict. One thing is for certain. I will be back......

© D A Hunter, 2006
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