As work continues to transform the Stadium at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, the venue played host to its first Rugby match as England Rugby League romped to a memorable victory over New Zealand.
The first – and winning – try at the former Olympic Stadium was scored by Jason Robinson OBE, the former England and Great Britain Rugby League wing who came out of retirement to grab the historic touchdown.
Jason was visiting the 54,000-seater stadium with Kiwi legend Robbie Hunter-Paul on a fact-finding mission and both were roped in to play an impromptu game with the site’s construction personnel.
Touring the construction site that will host the autumn international between England and New Zealand on Saturday November 7, Robinson and Hunter-Paul were coerced into competing after an excited group of workers from Balfour Beatty persuaded the duo to ditch their ambassador duties for an unofficial ‘friendly’.
Surrounded by towering cranes, the quick-thinking contractors immediately put their skills to good use by constructing a makeshift pitch in the centre of the building site.
Stuart Fraser, Stadium Project Director from Balfour Beatty, said: “We knew Jason and Robbie were coming down to see the Stadium’s progress and as quite a few of the lads are League fans, we joked about passing a ball around and seeing if they’d dare to get their suits dirty. We never thought for a second that we’d split into teams with Jason captaining England and Robbie New Zealand. It was a really surreal but fantastic experience.”
Although meant as a friendly, the sport’s competitive nature and teams’ fierce rivalry soon surfaced as spectators were shocked by the strength and energy being put into the tackles and challenges. One onlooker was overheard saying: “We’re used to operating heavy machinery round here, but I doubt even a bulldozer could stop this game.”
The 20-minute display eventually ended when England scored the winning try, cementing history as the first points to be scored at the venue. Fittingly, it was a trademark finish from Jason ‘Billy Whizz’ Robinson that broke the deadlock with the ex-Wigan and Sale star producing one of his iconic solo efforts at electric pace.
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Robinson said: “I certainly didn’t wake up this morning thinking I was going to score the first try at the former Olympic Stadium! It all started as a bit of fun but those lads weren’t holding back and naturally they’re built like steel. It was a brilliant match, everyone enjoyed it and I can’t wait for the Stadium to be finished. Next time we’ll have some grass to cushion the blows.”
Hunter-Paul added: “I’m bitterly disappointed that we didn’t win. If truth be told, I let Jason win but only because I know the Kiwis will finish what we started when they come here on the seventh of November. It should be a really special international series – especially in this fantastic Stadium.”
The England vs New Zealand autumn international series kicks off at the KC Stadium in Hull on Sunday November 1 (5.00pm) before attention turns to the former Olympic Stadium at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London on Saturday November 7 (2.30pm). The series concludes at the DW Stadium, Wigan on Saturday November 14 (1.00pm).
Fans have until midnight on St George’s Day – Thursday April 23 – to take advantage of a special early bird discount on tickets for all three internationals. Early bird prices are £40, £30, £25 and £20 for adults and £15, £12.50 and £10 for concessions. A three-match package costing just £45 for adults and £22.50 for concessions is also available.