Germany do most things right, and staging rugby matches is no different
Ryan Bailey reports from the Sparda Bank Hessen Stadium, Offenbach
IT’S A WORLD away from the game as we know it, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing; scratch beneath rugby’s hierarchical surface and you really discover the true values of the sport.
Beyond the intensity and rigmarole that oftentimes is associated with the professional game, this is rugby at a rudimentary level and it’s powerfully refreshing.
The German team celebrate after today’s win over Belgium. Source: World Rugby/Getty
It provides an entirely different perspective, in a completely different setting, on the same game we watch week in, week out. This is not the Six Nations, and there’s no need for comparisons, because the Rugby Europe Championship is something perfectly incomparable.
There is life below Europe’s dominant sextet and all the evidence you needed was inside, and outside, the Sparda Bank Hessen Stadium this afternoon as Germany and Belgium played out a thrilling encounter in front of 4,126 fans and a TV audience of millions.
It wasn’t always of the highest quality — basic mistakes from both sides were a common thread throughout the 80 minutes — but it took nothing away from the game or occasion; in fact, it added to it. From start to finish, it was frenetic, fast-paced and intoxicating.
Germany raced into a three-try lead, Belgium conjured a valiant second-half comeback and the scoreboard read 34-29 to the hosts at the final whistle. There was no shortage of drama, particularly in the closing stages.
Make no mistake about it, this is football country, and it will always be, but something special is happening here and rugby’s rising is gathering pace every time the national team step onto the field.
The Sparda Bank Hessen Stadium in Offenbach, a city of 123,000 people towards the south of the country, is a local football club’s home but German rugby has made it their own recently.
Last month, Kobus Potgieter’s side, currently ranked 23rd in the world, embarked on the long road to Japan with a famous, and potentially defining, win over previous World Cup qualifiers Romania. It was the perfect start to the qualification campaign and served as an indication of the headway the whole German Rugby Federation has made in such a short space of time.
Jarrid Els dives over for Germany’s second try. Source: World Rugby/Getty
Today, it was patently obvious.
There was a real sense of occasion surrounding the match and the Deutscher Rugby-Verband realise days like this present an invaluable opportunity to bring the game to new audiences and raise its profile in a sport-mad nation.
Outside, the concourses were lined with a variety of ‘Get Into Rugby’ workshops for fans, both young and old, while the Webb Ellis Trophy was an added attraction in the build-up to kick off.
They do most things right here, and staging rugby matches is no different. By their own admission, the union are still learning with each passing game but the rugby community in Germany is a tight-knit one and everyone is involved.
These are heady and exciting times for the sport and there’s a real giddiness and enthusiasm about it all; winning a scrum is almost cheered as loudly as scoring a try and the scenes at full-time were reflective of what’s happening here. There’s almost an innocence to it, in the best possible way.
The team, hand-in-hand, stood in front of the small section of ‘Ultra’ fans on the far side of the stadium, lapping up the applause to cries of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland.’ Germans know how to support their sports teams and it lends itself to a unique atmosphere.
But it’s also a balancing act. While there is so much onus on developing the sport and attracting new fans, all that really matters is what happens on the pitch and the right results will ultimately be the biggest marketing tool.
After defeat in Georgia a fortnight ago, today’s match carried added significance. The pressure was on the hosts to set the tempo, force the issue and break down a Belgium side growing in stature and experience with each passing game.
Over 4,000 people watched on as Germany recorded their second win of the campaign. Source: World Rugby/Getty
Even at this stage of a tournament with so much on the line, it was already must-not-lose territory for Germany. For a young, semi-professional squad with little experience at international level, that’s a heavy burden to shoulder.
But the goal and vision is clear; the pathway to Japan 2019 is in place and the side have already overcome the first few hurdles in their quest to make history and bring rugby to the consciousness of a population of over 80 million people.
As the post-match dinner and function began in the suites overlooking Germany’s field of dreams at the Sparda Bank Hessen Stadium, everyone — players, coaches, staff, volunteers and fans — could reflect on a job well done.
Today was about collecting four crucial qualifying points but, in essence, it was about so much more. It was about German rugby standing up, pushing its chest out and showing off.
Rugby is a global game and there’s so much more to the sport than the top tier nations we see and hear of on a weekly basis. That said, just keep an eye on German rugby going forward. It’s a team and union worth watching.
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