Great Rugby Moments: Millennium Stadium and ANZ Stadium

In the last two weeks of an amazing Rugby World Cup, we asked Populous Founder and Senior Principal Paul Henry from our Brisbane office to give us his greatest World Cup moments.

I hadn’t intended to begin with last weekend’s match winning penalty kick by Bernard Foley that secured Australia’s spot in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) semi-final. But in living rooms across Australia, who wasn’t caught up in the drama, tension and roar from the Twickenham crowd in the closing moments of that game? That intense atmosphere, even when you are so far away and it’s 3am in the morning, is part of what can create a great sporting moment in any game: a close contest, a connection between the team and the crowd and the sense of being part of something bigger.

For me, there have been two personal great ‘moments’ or matches in RWC history and I have been lucky enough to have been at both, as a spectator in the crowd, and a designer of both stadia involved.

The first was the 1999 Final, at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, when Australia beat France. It was the first RWC Final held in a closed-roof stadium, and the tournament had signalled a new professionalism in Rugby Union competition. But it wasn’t just the match that was great, and the singing electrifying; it was also the tension that built in the days leading up to the Final that made the occasion so memorable.

Wales was the principal host nation of the competition, and had held the opening ceremony in the newly built Millennium stadium, as well as the right to host the Final. The Millennium Stadium was a significant regeneration project in the centre of Cardiff and the Welsh were rightly very proud of their new stadium. In the days leading up to the Final, Cardiff was alive with Rugby World Cup fever. The Welsh were totally involved in the festivities. There were celebrations everywhere you went- in the bars, pubs, restaurants and all around the city centre.

Great moments in sport often begin with that atmospheric build up in the days before the event and they are always embraced by the people of the host city. This occasion mattered to Cardiff, the city was engaging on the world stage, and part of the success of that Final was the way the city and its people responded.

Two days before the game, we were given a very special opportunity with the chance to actually hold up that precious Webb Ellis Trophy that represents so much to world rugby.

Everyone looks for that personal connection to their team, their stadium, their sport; it is also part of what makes for great sporting moments. As stadium designers, we are constantly looking for new ways to enable that connection between the fan and the team, and we see it in the ongoing success of allowing fans access to the Players’ Race, the Warm up Rooms and Field Suites.

Fast forward four years to 2003, and another Rugby World Cup Final on the other side of the world at ANZ stadium in Sydney, with England playing Australia. My other greatest rugby sporting moment was the match which culminated in Jonny Wilkinson’s field goal. With less than one minute to the final whistle, the England playmaker and talisman drop kicked his country to World Cup victory.

I have never seen a crowd as depleted and exhausted after a match as that day because it had been so intense, so close. The crowd was truly invested and involved, clapping, yelling, and singing. Afterwards our ears were ringing, voices were hoarse, hands were sore – we were exhausted.

When Jonny Wilkinson kicked that ball I remember the whole thing in slow motion – it was as though time stood still – and of course I didn’t want him to score.

Again, that moment wasn’t in isolation; the crowd had been on a rollercoaster of emotion throughout the whole game. But in the end, for all of us, whatever side you were on, there was a unique connection between the team and the crowd that made that game a great rugby sporting moment.

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