Villa Park all set for taste of something new

(ER 2015) Friday 2 August 2013
Villa Park all set for taste of something new
Villa Park will host its first Test matches during RWC 2015 but it already has a place in rugby history

Villa Park is one of English football’s most reliable old-stagers. Steeped in history, the home of Aston Villa has long been high on the list of stadiums fit for use in international competitions.

In 1966 it was part of the furniture as England won the FIFA World Cup – hosting three matches – while 30 years later four games were staged at the ground as part of the highly successful Euro ‘96 competition.

England have stopped by on 16 occasions to play international matches, the first as early as 1909, while the ground is synonymous with the knockout stages of the FA Cup, having hosted a record number of semi-finals.

At Rugby World Cup 2015 it will hold two matches, with two-time champions South Africa set to play their pivotal pool match against Samoa at the ground before Australia, champions in 1991 and 1999, take on the Repechage Winner in Pool A.

Birmingham has a long association with rugby and while Villa Park will be making its debut as an international rugby venue at Rugby World Cup 2015, it has made two notable notches in the ledger by hosting tour matches in the past. The first, in 1924, ensures its place in rugby history.

The 1924 All Blacks are now known by a different name – the ‘Invincibles’. Counting legendary figures like the Brownlie brothers, Maurice and Cyril, George Nepia and Snowy Svenson among their number, the tourists defeated a North Midlands selection 40-3 at Villa Park. They returned home with an unbeaten record through 32 matches, earning their nickname. During the 1953-54 season the All Blacks returned to Villa Park, defeating a Midland Counties selection 18-3.

Birmingham also has a long and distinguished history at club level, a history that has ties with Rugby World Cup. Moseley, one of the city’s leading clubs, have been playing regularly since 1873/74, albeit under the name of Havelock Rugby Club in their earliest days. In 1991, as England battled into the Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham, Moseley’s Mike Teague was present and correct in their back row.

In more recent years, the link between Birmingham and the tournament has continued. Scotland fly half Craig Chalmers, Tom Court of Ireland, Canada prop Kevin Tkachuk and Fiji’s Akapusi Qera have all represented Birmingham and Solihull Bees and gone on to play at the Rugby World Cup, Court and Qera as recently as 2011 in New Zealand.

At the other end of the scale, a former Moseley youth player, Dan Toth, has been continuing the West Midlands’ link with the tournament in recent months. In October 2012, Toth suited up for Hungary to face Bulgaria in the opening match of European qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2015 in Kecskemét.

England Rugby 2015Ambassador Lawrence Dallaglio was on hand with the Webb Ellis Cup to witness the game, alongside 3,000 fans, following a long road-trip that took in stops in Paris, Menton and Monaco, with Toth’s men coming out on the right side of an exciting game.

The threads are beginning to come together for Rugby World Cup 2015 and Villa Park will once again be at the centre of the action.