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Wembley spectacle took rugby to a new level

By Tyrone Howe

Max Guazzini did it with Stade Francais. Ed Griffiths has managed it with Saracens. In their domestic leagues, both have taken rugby to a new level of appeal and commerciality.

Last Saturday Wembley saw a world record attendance for a club game with over 83,000 spectators.

It was a remarkable achievement and proof that when pricing policy, marketing and a quality product all combine, club rugby is as appealing as any mass spectator sport.

In the pre-match build-up a thousand strong choir was in attendance, the boy band McFly did their stuff, the Great Britain Wheelchair rugby squad gave a display of what we can look forward to in the the Paralympics, and there were a host of other features.

Who could not have been impressed?

Most importantly, the rugby did not disappoint.

Four tries, three yellow cards, and drama right down to the final seconds, the match between Saracens and Harlequins had it all.

The latter showed remarkable tenacity and character to finally defeat Saracens for the first time in six attempts.

The occasion also had a distinctive Irish flavour. It is now 15 years since Conor O’Shea and Mark McCall played alongside each other for London Irish.

One wonders if either could have imagined that all these years later they would be locking horns as the coaches of England’s two leading clubs, walking out onto the famous Wembley turf, in front of so many people.

It certainly was a far cry from a couple of thousand people at Sunbury in 1997.

If you were to consider that most interesting of questions, ‘Where are they now?’ you might be very surprised at how much that London Irish team is still contributing to the sport of rugby. From the same XV, Justin Bishop is currently defence coach for London Irish, Justin Fitzpatrick is head coach of Dungannon and David Humphreys obviously Ulster’s Director of Rugby.

For McCall and O’Shea the drama will continue with crucial matches ahead.

Whatever their respective fortunes this season they, along with their players, will look back on last Saturday’s Wembley spectacle as a unique occasion and very special memory.

Belfast Telegraph

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