Manchester welcome awaits England in 2015
The Manchester City Stadium will open its doors to England when Rugby World Cup 2015 gets underway, offering fans in the north a chance to see the hosts up close and personal.
The home of Manchester City, the stadium will offer a special atmosphere for Stuart Lancaster and his men as they take on the Repechage qualifier in Pool A.
The blue half of Manchester christened their new home in the 2003-04 Premier League season, having left their famous Maine Road ground in May 2003, but the stadium had already enjoyed a fine debut as the host venue for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, where rugby featured heavily in the rotation.
New Zealand, under the tutelage of the legendary Gordon Tietjens, won the Sevens event by defeating Fiji 33-15 in an entertaining final. All Blacks Mils Muliaina - a member of the squad that won Rugby World Cup 2011 - Craig Newby and Bruce Reihana all scored tries in the victory, while Rugby Sevens’ leading light, Waisale Serevi, suited up for Fiji.
The Manchester City Stadium will become the fourth Manchester venue to host an England Test match. Between 1880 and 1892 the national team were regular visitors to Whalley Range, while in 1897 one international was staged at Fallowfield. More recently, Old Trafford - home to City’s arch rivals, Manchester United - has staged major rugby matches, with England playing New Zealand in 1997 and Argentina in 2009.
England Rugby 2015 ambassador Lawrence Dallaglio was in the starting line-up against the All Blacks 16 years ago and remembers a fine welcome from the people of Manchester. He expects exactly the same when the current crop arrive at the Manchester City Stadium in 2015.
“There’s no doubt that football has undergone significant investment in the last 20 years and the stadiums are up there among the best in the world,” he said. “I remember a wonderful atmosphere from the people of Manchester. It’s going to be fantastic to take rugby to places in the country which wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to see that. It’s not just the stadiums, it’s the cities that will host the games and help to drive interest and support. It’s going to be very, very exciting.”
Alongside Dallaglio that day was Will Greenwood, a Rugby World Cup winner in 2003 and fellow England Rugby 2015 ambassador. For the centre, it was a chance to play on enemy ground as he is a die-hard City supporter. Greenwood is happiest in the stands at his side’s home, even leading a chorus of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot from the centre circle on one occasion, and is delighted that Rugby World Cup 2015 will be touching down there.
“As a faithful fan all these years and a big rugby guy, it’s absolutely superb,” he said. “It was really important for us to get a real mix of countries playing in different stadiums. Up in Lancashire, in the north of England, clearly there have been great sides down the years. Sale, Otley, Fylde, where Bill Beaumont was from, there’s a real rugby heritage to this part of the world. Bring England north, this place will be absolutely bouncing.”