From the perspective of the sporting calendar, early November in Britain means one thing: The Southern Hemisphere is touring this fair land, sending its best teams to play rugby against England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. One of the most (if not THE most) grueling team sports in the world, Rugby provides theater on all levels — namely bone-crushing tackles, exciting breakaways, the odd naughty-boy tactics and an unforgettable experience for fans and supporters.
The epicenter of all this is Twickenham Stadium, the home of World Rugby in England. But how to best experience a Rugby International match? Especially one involving such a historic fixture such as England v Australia on November 17? Since I lived in Twickenham for three years, perhaps I can help.
Here is a how-to guide to visiting Twickenham for an autumn England International rugby match.
10 a.m. Arrive by train. Twickenham, 10 miles southwest of London, is easy to get to from London and other rail networks — and let's face it, watching rugby involves drinking a couple of beers or three. So you don't want to drive. If you must drive (that is, you are the designated driver), get here early and park where you can, but avoid the following streets: Flood Lane, The Embankment, Riverside and Ferry Road. Why avoid these streets? Park here and you roll the dice known as "The River Thames Tide Gauntlet," which means you may return to a waterlogged vehicle.
10:02 a.m. Leave station and wander down to Church Street near the Thames. Before popping into the Italian restaurant Osteria Pulcinella for coffee and maybe a bacon sarnie, head to river and see how many cars have been unwittingly left overnight only to be tickled by the Thames. Pat yourself on the back for not driving to "Twickers."
10:45 a.m. Leave Italian eatery, reminding yourself that the quietest part your day is likely done, and head to the Eel Pie pub (a stone's throw down Church Street) to meet more chums. Make fun of the silly hats and wigs you should be wearing.
10:55 a.m. Knock impatiently on the door of the Eel Pie with approximately 100 other thirsty patrons looking to get a head start on the day.
11:01 a.m. Enter the Eel Pie and order a pint of one of the yummy (and not too strong) ales on tap from the Hall & Woodhouse brewery in Dorset such as Fursty Ferret, Golden Glory or my Dad's favorite, Tanglefoot. Grab some snacks like scampi fries or pork scratchings, tip the barman, pat the pub dog on the head and head back outside with your mates. It's chilly, but this is all part and parcel of the day.
12:30 p.m. Remind traveling party that there is a rugby game to attend, and break into an impromptu singsong of the "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" chorus, especially in the general direction of Australian fans (this is London, after all) who are wearing their own silly hats and painted faces. If any of your party gets the song gestures wrong, that person is next up to buy a round. Remind one of your party to make a dinner reservation at one of Church Street's three Indian restaurants.
12:45 p.m. Remember that Church Street is still an actual street with one-way traffic. Generally, locals will know not to drive within a country mile of the area on game days, but be prepared to evade very slow oncoming traffic, watching out for the perplexed look on the driver's face. Most drivers will receive a good-natured "hooray!" as they try and avoid (most) fans.
1 p.m. If possible, order the fish finger sandwich for lunch. This maybe not be possible due to the volume of fans in this pub and the pub up the road (The Fox), as the number of fans down this small street approaches four figures. Take charge. Order your pilgrimage to follow you away from the pub (to groans) and march towards Twickenham Stadium. Stop off at the Sea Fresh fish and chips shop to grab some proper chips wrapped in newspaper and soiled with salt and vinegar.
1:15 p.m. Make your way to the turnstiles at Twickenham Stadium. Normally this would take 15 minutes. This is not a normal day. This is England v. Australia. Allow 45 minutes to: 1) Buy a scarf, if you don't have one, from the many vendors on the way. 2) Engage in friendly banter with Aussie fans and remind them of the whole penal colony thing (optional). 3) Listen to Aussie fans talk about they have won two World Cups to England's one. Nod sagely. 4) Sing "Swing Low" a few times more. 5) Grab a another beer en route and, finally, 6) Marvel at how structurally amazing the "Cabbage Patch" is. Twickenham is the largest stadium in the world dedicated to rugby, able to host 82,000 singing fans.
2:20 p.m. After finding your seat with your mates and gazing at the sea of white in most areas of the ground, get ready for the teams' entrance and the anthems. Respect the Aussie anthem and then belt the lyrics to "God Save the Queen," out of tune just like the rest of the crowd.
2:30 p.m. Kickoff.
2:32 p.m. Head to the loo, quickly.
2:40 p.m. Get back to seat as your mates cheer. Ask who scored the try for England. Cheer that it was Chris Ashton and boo that he didn't do the swan dive. Look on worriedly as the Aussies score two unanswered tries as the half comes to a close.
3:10 p.m. Grab a hot chocolate to help get some feeling back into your fingers during halftime. Notice how red everyone's nose is. Yup, it's autumn in Twickenham! Chuckle to yourself as you check the other games' halftime scores and see that South Africa is losing to Scotland. Double check that score line, however.
3:20 p.m. Second half. Feel a wave of optimism as England scores a try and edges closer to Australia. Get swept up with 80,000 fans screaming "Swing Low," goosebumps and neck hair on end. A couple of drop goals and England is within two points. As full time approaches, England is awarded a penalty and you turn towards your friends, unable to watch. It's deathly quiet as Toby Flood starts his run-up. You watch the reaction on your mates' faces and, collectively as a stadium, erupt as the kick is good. The ref whistles full time as mass group jumping hugs ensue. England has won!
4:30 p.m. Shuffling along, make your way out of the stadium, high-fiving as many fans as possible (probably not the Aussie fans). Retrace your steps back towards the river.
5:30 p.m. Pop into the Barmy Arms pub right on the river opposite the Twickenham rowing club and revel in live music as the celebrations start and fans from both sides mingle and party into the evening. Decide its dinnertime and lead your tribe towards the Delhi Durbar, my Indian restaurant of choice.
7 p.m. Enjoy an evening of ceremony and pomp with excellent onion bhajis, Bombay aloos, chicken tikka masala and plenty of steamed rice and naan bread — and jugs of water. Tip well and head out.
9 p.m. Normally the pubs are getting busy right now. But on rugby Saturdays, it is quiet just after 9 p.m. In all likelihood, places like the Eel Pie have empty kegs. So walk to the station, bid farewell to your compadres and head off in multiple directions. Go to bed and sleep very well!
When I lived in Twickenham, I would head back to the Eel Pie — not because I was still thirsty, but because I lived opposite it, and whether you chose to participate in the festivities or not, you couldn't ignore the goings on. Rain or shine, autumn rugby Saturdays were always exciting calendar fixtures.
Follow the rugby action on Yahoo Sports as England take on Fiji, Australia, South Africa & New Zealand on consecutive Saturdays beginning November 10.
by Matt Goff
Top: Alex Goode of England evades Felipe Contepomi of The Barbarians during the Killik Cup match between England and The Barbarians at Twickenham Stadium in May. England faces a series of Southern Hemisphere teams there this autumn. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Upper right: The Eel Pie pub is a favorite stop for fans heading to rugby at Twickenham. (Photo by Matt Goff)
Left: England fans love to cheer on their team at Twickenham Stadium. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Lower right: England's Chris Ashton is famous — or infamous — for doing a swan dive when scoring a try. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)