Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, looks in awe at rugby’s band of bad weather fans and reports on an old, new face in the Wallabies set-up.
If you attended a rugby match on Saturday then you can have an official RugbySpy pat on the back for braving the Baltic conditions and award yourself a large brandy.
If you came back full of the joys of Christmas spirit, and with your family intact, ahead of the festivities you can pour yourself another one.
We were at Harlequins for their Challenge Cup game against Benetton before heading to Leicester for the Champions Cup game against Racing 92.
The expression brass monkeys does not do the conditions justice and it was tough going for the blokes on the pitch and just as tough for the men, women and children in the stands. Why do we do it?
Summer rugby has never seemed so attractive but don’t go there, even though the Premiership will eat into June next season.
We play cricket in the summer and rugby is supposed to be played in the winter, even it was the deepest of mid-winters on Saturday.
Cricket has its Barmy Army, fanatical supporters who will go anywhere in admittedly good weather, and rugby’s version of the Barmies was out in force at the weekend. And good on them.
In the end 6,838 hardy souls made it to the Stoop, in Twickenham, to sit through Quins’ 20-9 win and some even made it to the end of what was, with the best will in the world, not the greatest rugby feast you will see.
After the match we spoke to one Harlequins player who was struggling to get his words out because of the cold despite the fact he was wearing his Christmas jumper for a team social later that evening.
We hope the Quins players had a good night – they had earned a drink.
At half-time when we nipped downstairs to put the kettle on there were a few parents asking their offspring if they really fancied staying on the last 40 minutes.
To their credit there were some youngsters telling their seniors they wouldn’t mind watching a bit more rugby and the snug bar in the local can wait for later.
Adam Jones, the former Wales prop who is Quins scrum guru, was unbelievably still wearing shorts when he came to see the hack pack after the match but the fans, all rugged up in coats and scarves, suffered. They do not come from Abercraf after all and in Abercraf they do understatement quite well.
“They were pretty average conditions,” said Jones. “We have all played in them. Players will be frustrated with knock-ons and what-have-you but a lot of it is about what is happening above you.
“I never minded it. It is hard though, there are a lot of set-pieces, a lot of scrums and a lot of mauling and it takes it of you. The pitch gets softer and when you have to carry into traffic there are two or three guys ready to smash you because you don’t get that time to readjust the ball the way you need it – but that is what the big heavy boys get paid for.”
But for mere mortals it really was one of the days when you wanted to be in the pack instead of shivering on the wing….or in the stands or press box. And it was the same elsewhere.
In Dublin 40,261 Leinster and Bath fans turned up to watch the European champions destroy the visitors 42-15 at the Aviva Stadium. They proved they can play wet weather rugby as well as the all-singing, all-dancing stuff although they did plenty of that as the heavens opened.
There weren’t that many in the stands by the end as with some fans getting soaked, and the game done and dusted well before 80 minutes were up, they headed for the bars at the back of the stands.
Punters at the Wasps game in Toulouse fared no better and the 7,351 who were at Glasgow’s 21-10 win over Lyon at Scotstoun deserved rugby’s equivalent of a gallantry award – ditto those in Cardiff for Saracens defeat of the hosts.
Ditto those who turned to any game of any level and double ditto to those who played in them – how anyone can play rugby in that lot is beyond us. It was so cold that even Neal Hatley, the England scrum coach, who never wears a sweater had one on at Gloucester on Friday night when he was watching their game against Exeter.
Northampton’s Challenge Cup game in Romania was called off because of heavy snow, the team tried to dig their plane out of snow to get out of town to no avail. They, some fans and the man from BBC Radio Northampton managed to get out some time on Sunday evening.
At Welford Road earlier that day it was just as miserable, thankfully without the rain, as Leicester’s miserable Champions Cup campaign, well campaign full stop, continued with their eighth straight loss. They got turned over 34-11 by Racing 92 in the return match from last weekend in Racing’s Disneyland Stadium but still nearly 20,000 fans turned up.
All over Europe spectators flocked to watch games in appalling weather. It might be more fun than Christmas shopping but being rained on, in Arctic temperatures and in howling wind, and paying for it is not top of our list of to-dos. Chuck in train delays, and other transport nightmares, and it was not a giggle.
As the BBC Sports Personality of the Year programme showed yet again on Sunday when they showed little rugby, barring one try in the Women’s Six Nations, a brief montage of the men’s tournament and a clip of Brad Barritt lifting the Premiership trophy, rugby needs its fans.
You know, the ones who actually attend games, get into scrapes, miss their trains, fall out with their partners and have a general shocker. And have a giggle in a howling gale when they have missed the last night bus home.
The fans will all laugh about it next time they get together but it was not fun at the weekend. So we salute them all.
Have another large one, you’ll need it.
As we wrote a couple of weeks ago the Australian coach Michael Cheika was under the cosh and subject to a review of the Wallaby performances this year.
They have been abject, winning just four Test matches, but when we gazed into our crystal ball we predicted that Cheika would be safe. And thankfully for the big man news filtered through overnight on Sunday that he will carry in charge until the World Cup at least although whether his assistants will be there or not is another matter.
The Aussies have appointed Scott Johnson in a new role as director of rugby and he will liaise with Cheika in World Cup plotting.
Johnson, 56, is an Australian whose most recent post was a similar job with Scotland. He has also worked as a coach with Wales, the Wallabies, in America and with the Ospreys. He is charged with delivering a performance programme, big picture stuff, but Cheika will also report to Johnson.
But as Nigel Melville, the interim CEO of the RFU, told us last week super coaches want to coach and report to a CEO not an in-between man.
Cheika said the right things – you would wouldn’t you.
“It’s a great move for Australian Rugby and I know it will prove to be the best long-term structure for the game in this country,” a statement gushed. “I’m looking forward to working with Scott and finishing the work that I started by making Australians proud of our performance.”
Cheika is the sort of bloke who does not back down and he has enough personal cash to walk away from the job any time he likes – thanks to his fashion business.
So it will be interesting to see how this relationship works out and how Cheika reacts to another layer being put between him and his CEO.