Brian Ashby: Midweek sellout good for the game

The Crusaders' midweek match against England has sold out. Photo / Getty Images.
The Crusaders' midweek match against England has sold out. Photo / Getty Images.

I wasn't sure how I felt about the Crusaders clash with England on Tuesday night.

The fans have won me over, with the match set to be a sellout. Rugby for rugby's sake can be a good thing, even though there is little riding on the game.

There's a strong school of thought that we should see more midweek games against provincial or Super Rugby sides on the inbound tours. I'm not a great fan of turning back the clock and adding to the already cluttered fixtures list. Clearly, neither is Steve Hansen with none of the Crusaders non-required All Blacks being released.

For all that, I'm feeling a little nostalgic, and decidedly middle aged. England versus the Crusaders is kind of a closing of the circle.

September the 8th 1973 was a very special day. My first trip to Lancaster Park to see Canterbury take on the touring England team. The old man had promised to take me to a Ranfurly Shield game, but he convinced me that going to see Canterbury defend the log 'o wood against Marlborough wouldn't be all that interesting with bigger defences to come later in the season.

Dear me, Canterbury didn't get another challenge until the next decade and they didn't get to defend the Shield until 1982.

It was a big day going to the park for the first time. To a weedy little primary school boy, players like Alex Wyllie, Fergie McCormick, Tane Norton and Lyn Davis were living-breathing demi-Gods. Turning the clock back 41 years, I think most xenophobic Kiwis would have viewed people with English accents as being pommie commie trade union agitators, or public school cads.

"Wait till those poms get on the wrong side of the ruck."

As plumes of steam burst forth from the old gas works site over behind the embankment, Canterbury followed on from the upset wins by Taranaki and Wellington over the ordinary English side. It was meant to be. Bruce McPhail's late try sealed the deal.

What was also meant to be was an All Black win a week later. But that's another story. A very sorry day for JJ Stewart's side.

Tuesday night underlines just how much the rugby world has changed.

Canterbury's 1973 win came three years before we even had a national provincial championship. I got to see Canterbury also beat Fiji, Scotland, Tonga and Ireland, before I ever got to see the All Blacks in Christchurch. After the All Blacks appeared in the Garden City against the 1971 Lions, they didn't come back until they lost to the same side in 1977.

So perhaps that's what the big sell is for the fans on Tuesday night? A sense of nostalgia for rugby the way it used to be? Considering that none of the Crusaders rock stars will be tuning up for Tuesday night, getting the "full house" signs up is quite an achievement less than a week out from the shortest day.

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