Milton Keynes ready for international action
Milton Keynes’ Stadium MK will bring a royal seal of approval to Rugby World Cup 2015. Opened by the Queen in 2007, the stadium has quickly become a go-to venue for international competitions, regardless of the football code.
At Rugby World Cup 2015 the stadium will host three matches, with France and Samoa set for fixtures against the Americas 1 and Asia 1 qualifiers respectively. Rounding up the action is a contest between Oceania 1 qualifier and the Repechage Winner in Pool A.
The home to English League Two side MK Dons, the stadium has been hosting international action since the earliest days of its existence. In November 2007 the England Under 21 side took on Bulgaria in Milton Keynes, while Ghana defeated Latvia 1-0 in 2010 to round off their preparations for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Saracens were the first club to host a rugby match at Stadium MK when Bristol visited on 10 May 2008, providing a grand stage for Rugby World Cup 2003 winner Richard Hill’s 288th and last appearance for the men in black. A last-minute try from Kameli Ratuvou ensured Hill’s 15-year club career finished on a winning note.
Nearby Northampton Saints got in on the act in 2011, as they wound their way through the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup. Milton Keynes will be able to call on some of English rugby’s most vocal, passionate supporters at Rugby World Cup 2015 and a quick glance at the Saints’ brief sabbatical at Stadium MK shows just how good the atmosphere can get for rugby matches there.
The Saints drew a record crowd for their quarter-final tie with Ulster - played in blazing sunshine - and marked the occasion with a 23-13 victory before defeating Perpignan in the last four. A similarly impressive crowd turned out for the second contest, while the following season saw Munster stop by for a pool match. Simon Zebo wrote the most thrilling chapter in the stadium’s short rugby history with a hat-trick as the Irish side won an entertaining contest 51-36.
The next step up, to international rugby, is one that the stadium will take in its stride. By the time RWC 2015 kicks off the capacity will have increased to more than 30,000 and with the Midlands and London within touching distance, plenty of rugby fans will have the chance to watch some box office names in action.
While Milton Keynes may not be the first name to roll off the tongue when asked about English rugby, it does have a long history in the sport. The city’s rugby club rose from the Ashes of Wolverton RFC, which was formed in the 1870s, and counted a legend of the game as president for a number of years.
Jeff Butterfield remains one of England’s most-gifted centres, a deft passer of the ball and inspirational leader. Capped 28 times by his country, he enjoyed a great deal of success in the Five Nations, winning two Championships and a Grand Slam. Butterfield was also a key cog in one of the finest British & Irish Lions teams of all-time, scoring three tries in four Tests in a drawn series against South Africa in 1955. He served as president of Milton Keynes between 1972 and his death in 2004 and turned out for Northampton at club level.
Milton Keynes will hope to create a new legacy in the sport at RWC 2015, with some memorable matches on the cards and a new set of fans set to experience international rugby for the first time.