Last weekend was a busy (and expensive one) for me, I was already long booked and sorted to head off to Glasgow on Saturday morning for the Six Nations Rugby Union clash between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield but I was given a call suggesting a cross code weekend might be in order. Friday night was the first home game for the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League team. They were taking on Harlequins Rugby League who are many decades younger than their stable mates at The Stoop who play Rugby Union and have just about found their stride in Super League since their transformation from the long-standing London Broncos side I was used to hearing about as a child.
The usual pre-match routine of a couple of drinks in the Original Oak followed by a plod down to the stadium took place and a very healthy 14,300 crowd took their places, this would have been a sell out but due to some renovations of the exposed western terrace we were reduced to 3 sides for the game.
We have been used to Leeds being somewhat invincible in the 13-man form of the game. Since I arrived in Leeds in 2004 they have won the title 4 times, 3 of them consecutively. Over the last 6 years I’ve seen them win many, many times from my perch in the South Stand somewhere between the half way and 40 metre lines. Friday night was not one of them! A bit of early season rustiness from both the crowd and the team lead to some ambitious but ultimately stupid mistakes. A 26-36 loss flattered a Rhinos side that really didn’t look at the races. A plethora of injuries doesn’t help this, particularly powerhouses such as Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock. It might be only have the 3rd game of the season but on such fine margins places are lost.
Saturday morning arrives and a 8.50 train out of Leeds bound for Carlisle, rated the 2nd most beautiful train journey in the world (well from Settle to Carlisle at least). I admit it is a gorgeous ride through West Yorkshire along the Leeds-Liverpool canal that I had cycled 8 months ago, into the North Yorkshire pennines, past the 3 highest peaks in the county and on to North Lancashire. However it does take a seriously long time, 2 hours 45 minutes to be exact which can be frustrating with no power sockets for laptop based entertainment! I shared a table with some good-natured Sheffield Wednesday football fans on their way to Carlisle for a league game, I left it until just before the end of the journey to announce my alliances to Rochdale who had played Wednesday off the park just a few weeks ago much to their annoyance. From there it was a hop on to the 140mph pendolino train straight up to Glasgow Central.
I like Glasgow a lot, it is the industrial and cultural heartland of Scotland, it is the capital city in all but name and is substantially larger than the actual capital city, Edinburgh. I wrote a detailed post about the city some years ago and like most large cities in the UK a lot of money during the property boom has been pumped into it. Of course now we are in a time of budget cuts and deficit repayment things have slowed if not stopped in most places.
Sunday, game day, having gone through a six nations pre-game ritual a year earlier with the Scotland-England fixture I was looking forward to being a home fan this year rather than having to be a touch concerned about what the locals might do to me! A lot was the same as last year, and this was a good thing, same pre match bar, same walk from Haymarket to Murrayfield, a lot of the same people as well. The biggest difference (other than it being Irish fans mingling with the Scots rather than English fans) was the warmth! A lovely, mild early spring day greeted us and a good match was in order. Last year we were up in the top tier away from the action, this year we were much closer, in the corner just 8 or 9 rows from the pitch. As kick off approached the teams emerged into a cauldron of noise which then fell silent as the rugby community, famously “a world in union” fell silent in remembrance of those in New Zealand and particularly Christchurch, a rugby union hot bed, which has been struck by a devastating earthquake killing hundreds.
The wonderful thing about Rugby is that there is no segregation, there were some Irish fans behind me and we can all sit, chat and have a good laugh. Banter is the technical term I think. If you can’t take it, or you are out to cause trouble you are not welcome and you will be told as much. I was sat next to an older Scottish gentleman, dressed in a kilt and with a hearing aid, he was quiet but knew everything that was going on. He seemed to be that kind of person that has been to every game for several decades, loved his country and his team deeply which made his criticism, whilst intelligent and based on experience all the more scathing when he vented his frustration at the problems the game has around the scrum in particular.
The game itself was absorbing from our point of view. Ireland, who had Ronan O’Gara on top, top form seemed content to concede penalties to break up Scotland’s momentum and then would go and score tries of their own to rub it in. Scotland’s defense was not fantastic and their offense never got the chance to get going. However, somehow, Scotland could and possibly should have won if it was not for some missed kicks at goal. Final score: Scotland 18-21 Ireland.
The half hour walk to Edinburgh was not as hap hazard as last year, the kick off was 3pm, 2 hours earlier than the prime time Saturday night Calcutta Cup clash against England a year earlier which ended 15-15 in what was not a pretty match. Less of a police presence and those heading to the Capital city were not shepherded away from those heading for Haymarket. Sunday finished with a busy train ride back to Glasgow and a surprisingly early night.
A fantastic weekend was had, another wonderful trip to Scotland and I look forward to a leisurely visit in May to do some more of the touristy bits and pieces. Many thanks to my hosts and dear friends Andy and Emma who made me very welcome and fed me pancakes and many other tasty things, much love to you both.