Wowed by Wembley

Every sports fan should have a bucket list of stadia they wish to visit, and Wembley should be right at the top.

Wembley won’t sell out tonight and it’s been confirmed that the top tier of this marvellous venue is closed. By Monday, over 40 000 tickets had been sold for this fixture so we may see somewhere in the region of 50 000 people by kickoff. Nevertheless, to be within its walls is quite a humbling experience.

London was hit by thunderstorms and significantly strong winds over the weekend and experienced some rain on Monday. The good news for South Africa is it’s a crisp, cloudless night in north London, and although it’s bitterly cold, they won’t have to worry about the weather.

Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter told this website on Monday this match is a marketing exercise. It’s bound to be more serious than that, but a quick look at the match programme suggests he wasn’t kidding. There’s a large section devoted to the golden age of the Springboks, while the Saracens’ Saffa contingent is quoted heavily. Bok van Blerk is also set to entertain the crowd with hits like “De La Rey” and “Ons Vir Jou Suid Afrika”.

There’s plenty of South Africans on hand to enjoy this little slice on home, but at present the iconic flags are outnumbered by those bearing the Saracens insignia. There will be plenty of support for the dirt-trackers tonight, but one feels they won’t shout down the Saracens faithful.

Francois Pienaar, a former World Cup-winning Bok captain and Saracens player, is the host for the evening, and had a chat with a few of the first string Boks before kickoff. Captain John Smit spoke about the great year South Africa has enjoyed while his vice-captain Victor Matfield pledged an improved performance in their remaining two Tests.

‘Our bodies are holding up, but we haven’t been happy with our showing last Friday [against France],’ he said. ‘We have two games to rectify that.’

By Jon Cardinelli, at Wembley