Former Wallaby Nick Stiles is certain Melbourne is the perfect choice to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup final as the accommodation goes beyond the stadium.
The decision of whether Perth’s Optus Stadium, Sydney’s Accor Stadium or Melbourne’s cricket ground will be the setting for rugby’s biggest showpiece will only be decided next year.
Until then, the choice will be the source of heated debates and maneuvers. Best of all, there’s no wrong answer when choosing between three of these world-class sites.
Stiles is delighted to see Melbourne once again become a Bledisloe Cup city with all eyes on Marvel Stadium for a thrilling clash between the Wallabies and the All Blacks on Thursday night.
He has a thoughtful view of where he thinks the RWC 2027 Finals will work best now that Australia has been awarded the right to host the tournament.
He absorbed everything Melbourne has to offer as the Melbourne Rebels’ managing director of rugby. He was also based in Japan as the coach of Kintetsu Liners throughout the successful hosting of the 2019 tournament in that country.
As a Wallabies prop, he saw Melbourne come to life in 2001 for the second litmus test in an epic series against the British and Irish Lions.
“It’s not just the site experience, but everything Melbourne has to offer that sets it apart,” Stiles said.
“The fan experience in a condensed area is different from other major stadiums in Australia.
“I talk about what Melbourne can bring with fan hubs outside the stadium and how the city interacts with supporters with such an accessible venue just minutes away.
“The location is second to none.
“In Japan, I saw how important it was for the Rugby World Cup to be for fans without match tickets as well as those inside the venues. The fan hubs were a big part of 2019.
“The city’s incredible vibe and energy for a major sporting event means it’s not a cliché to call Melbourne the sporting capital of the world.”
The MCG’s 100,000 capacity makes it Australia’s largest stadium. The simple lure of setting a new record for the largest RWC crowd in history will be compelling to some.
So far he is among the 89,297 fans drawn to Wembley in 2015 for the Ireland v Romania pool game in London.
Stiles didn’t suddenly take on a role with Visit Victoria. His opinion of Melbourne’s positives has been formed over decades.
He was a rookie Test prop in 2001 when he first discovered how Melbourne fans can embrace rugby.
In the first Test of this series, the Wallabies were ambushed by the British and Irish Lions at the Gabba where the stands were dripping with fans in red jerseys.
The chant “Lions, Lions, Lions” was a constant soundtrack. It is still one of the most notable venues in modern Australian rugby, as the Lions basically played a home game in Australia.
It was crunch time for Australian Rugby Union supremo John O’Neill, business operations manager Brian Thorburn and the off-field team.
They had a week to go around. The question mark relied on rugby outpost Melbourne to play ball.
The ARU spent nearly $100,000 to have every captive gold cap and scarf sent to Melbourne for kick-off. The mantra “be bold, wear gold” was adopted in Melbourne.
Gold, finally, overwhelmed red off the field as well as on it. Melbourne fans roared and celebrated two tries from Joe Roff and a 35-14 win for the Wallabies.
Golden glitter falling from the roof of the current Marvel Stadium made the evening unforgettable for over 56,000 fans.
That night changed the way Wallabies fans supported their team. More fans wore gold on their own. Women’s supporters jerseys were made.
“That 2001 Melbourne Test changed the way fans supported the Wallabies with team colours, scarves etc. It was a special night,” Stiles said.
Melbourne played a leading role in hosting the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The then Docklands Stadium hosted as many matches (seven) as the Australian Stadium in Sydney and only the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in organized more.
More than 284,000 fans came to Melbourne, many of them Kiwis as the All Blacks were based in Melbourne and played three times in the southern capital.
The All Blacks enjoyed their anonymity in AFL-centric Melbourne. All Blacks back Caleb Ralph must have felt safe filling the time with a visit to a salon to have his legs waxed.
Unfortunately, rugby writer Claire Harvey had reason to frequent the same salon. His ironic story that the Kiwi tough men of world rugby now used something less than a chainsaw for personal manicures was a classic.
All Blacks great Colin Meads even shook his head when he saw what his game had come to.
Full-back Matt Burke scored a try and kicked numerous times in the Wallabies’ victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2001. Like everyone else, he lit the flame of great rugby in Melbourne.
In 1998, the fluid-moving full-back scored all 24 points as the Wallabies upset the All Blacks 24-16 at the MCG in a test that ushered in a superb sweeping run of the Kiwis.
“Burke 24, All Blacks 16” screamed a newspaper headline.
“Melbourne, the All Blacks, 75,000 fans. It was one of those games that football players dream of, the game where everything seems to go well,” Burke wrote in his book Matthew Burke: A Rugby Life.
The Wallabies skipper, John Eales, distilled the satisfaction. He felt the team had beaten the All Blacks at their own game.
The Wallabies had absorbed everything thrown at them, including an early 8-0 deficit, to go home clinically as the dominant team.
It was the first time coach Rod Macqueen had led a Bledisloe Cup test. He proposed a new way for Wallabies to respect the haka, but also to take the sting out of it a bit just before the test.
The Wallabies faced the haka but were still wearing their tracksuits. After the Warriors’ fierce challenge moved players and Kiwi fans alike, the Wallabies took their own quiet circle break to remove their outerwear.
Before the test, Burke was present when the media asked him about his philosophy towards the All Blacks.
“People tend to put the All Blacks on a pedestal, but they are only human. They bleed red blood like the rest of us. And they are very beatable. The keys are to not be intimidated, to play your own game as intended and not to be sucked into theirs…and to play until the last of the 80 minutes,” Burke said.
Play until the last 80 minutes…that formula has never changed.