Twickenham 2019 - A great day out

Here we are in the depths of the rugby union close season so there are no matches to photograph and describe to you. I do have shots from a rugby league game last weekend and I will get round to showing you some of those very soon. However, for this post I thought I’d spend a few minutes telling you about the rest of my Twickenham day; what happened after Yorkshire Women’s fantastic championship win back at the beginning of June. This was the day before my trip to Georgia with England Counties.

England scrum-half Leanne Riley in typical sure-fire passing mode

Hannah Botterman celebrates her try while I look on from the other end of the pitch

Must admit I was surprised and delighted that my accreditation covered all the day’s games, two of which involved some of the world’s greatest players in a unique double header: England v the Barbarians, first the women and then the men.

Is this Barbarians’ Elinor Snowsill in action?

Although I’ve photographed at Twickenham on a number of occasions before, it’s always been when the stadium itself was practically empty. It’s such a vast stadium that even a couple of thousand spectators will hardly fill a section, let alone a full side of the ground. Yorkshire’s game had kicked off at 10.30 in the morning and there were a reasonable number of people around the trophy presentation area in the stand adjacent to the half way line. The rest of the ground was filled only by vacant green seats.

England ace winger Kelly Smith, airborne and about to pounce

Abbie Scott being carried home

However, by the time England Women kicked off at 12.45, more people began to populate other sections of the stadium. I think I later heard that the attendance was registered as being 17,000. Although it didn’t come close to filling the place, the figure represented a record for a women’s game at Twickenham. It was also a record for me. As I recall, the Championship play-off I photographed in 2016 was a full house at Bristol of 16,000 people.

All smiles at the end of a hard contest

The crowd had grown to 40,000 for the men’s England XV versus the Barbarians. This virtually filled the lower sections of the stands all the way round the pitch and absolutely smashed my previous attendance record. As I’ve written in the past, I really never mind how many people are watching when I photograph rugby but I must admit that the drama in a picture is enhanced when there’s a crowd in the background.

The Barbarians

A bigger crowd meant that there was an increased interest from the media so there were TV cameras and many more photographers so I decided to keep a bit of a low profile and opted to remain in one position for the whole game. This was right on the try line but at the side of the pitch rather than the end.

England passing along the line

A run for Alex Mitchell as Nigel Owens races to keep up with play

This worked less well for the women’s game than the men. In the first half England women played away from my position and scored most of their tries in the first forty. The Barbarians, on the other hand, hardly threatened the try line at all and seemed to spend much of their time getting into a rhythm and playing as a team. Although England emerged as winners, they didn’t have as much of their own way in the second half and spent more time defending their line against a resurgent Barbarians attack. So I was less pleased with my crop of images from the game. It was a good one though, full of attacking running rugby, just not particularly near me. As I’d witnessed before at Doncaster, it was fantastic to see so many of the players walking a lap of honour, pausing for autographs, selfies and chats with young fans.

Alex Dombrandt latches onto a pass before running on to score the first of his two tries during the game

More of my luck was in for the men’s game. This began with the Barbarians having a squad photograph right in front of my position. England played towards me in the first forty and crossed the try line several times. Although my seating position meant I’d not capture scoring players running towards me, I was quite happy to have side-on shots of their runs. The Olympus 300mm lens (600mm full frame) gave me the reach to capture close up images of scrums and tackles too.

Both sides attacked freely but England were in the ascendancy during the first half. This wasn’t England’s ‘first’ team but the squad contained many top players hoping to do well and attract selectors for the upcoming World Cup. So, partly because they seemed to be on top and partly as the end they were attacking in the second half was close to my exit, I opted to move there for the final forty.

A second half run, dive and celebration for Johnny Williams

This also proved to be a wise choice as England’s onslaught continued, I managed to collect more ‘keeper’ shots and their tally rose above the 50 points mark. The Barbarians also carried on playing open attacking rugby and I’m sure spectators thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. It really was a great day at Twickenham. I have more pictures from the day. Let me know if you’d like to see them!