At the match: Second Rugby League Test, England v New Zealand

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As we waited for the HS1 service at Ashford International to actually locate a driver, the platform staff having confirmed that Southeastern had given them work schedules that didn’t match the actual trains running, we mingled with some West Ham fans.  By ‘mingle’ I mean, ‘nodded at whilst killing time buying coffee’, but when next they meet Everton the Olympic Stadium, which today held rugby league for the first time whilst they played football at Upton Park, will be their home.  They probably don’t yet realise how lucky they are although I doubt their games will start with the twin spectacle of a singalong to Mony, Mony and a team being unable to accurately unfurl a giant England flag across the pitch.

This is a great place to watch sport and if the match on display wasn’t able to rouse the 45,000 spectators present to properly test the acoustics, at least it did ensure that this tight, compelling series enters its third match at a sold out DW Stadium with all outcomes still possible.  A game in which solid defence held firm against attacks that didn’t quite come together this was tense enough to mean that there was no chance of a Mexican Wave but, until James Graham had a try disallowed near the end, also one in which there wasn’t action enough to get the crowd roaring.  2-2 at half time, penalties exchanged, was 9-2 at the death with the only try coming for the Kiwis soon after the break.  Rugby league fans bore their union friends to tears with talk of how TGG is better because it has more tries so for some dullards it will be an embarrassment that a high profile game in the capital led to just a solitary maximum score.  Unfortunately for many fans, and writers, of the thirteen man code things are either the best ever or the worst ever, there’s no middle ground.

They should reflect on the many things today got right whilst also lamenting the things that went wrong.  Getting 45,000 to the stadium – and, yes, I do believe that figure – is amazing.  I once saw Great Britain play the Kiwis at Old Trafford in front of about 1/3 that number.  A few years ago we couldn’t even fill Loftus Road.

We made our way to the fanzone afterwards which, in true rugby league style, looked like a perfect destination for a summer day and not quite right for the one we actually had but, shockingly, everyone there seemed happy enough – and from thence to the surreal world that is Westfield where we drank our artisan pints from plastic mugs and put the world to rights.

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