There is a rhythm in the life of a rugby fan. A rhythm that generally revolves around Saturday.
A day that means cold feet on a muddy sideline for those watching or, for those playing, steam escaping from the heat of a scrum.
With English supporters halfway through the country’s latest lockout and community rugby on break, weekends have changed.
But for a gray November day in southwest London, Saturday suddenly made a welcome comeback.
For rugby fans experiencing an oval ball-shaped famine, two English teams have hosted a Twickenham feast for those watching on TV or via streaming services.
The first of two games on Saturday, between England and France, was all that sport should be. It contained all the ingredients needed to create the perfect escape.
There was an outsider. France, playing in a country where they had not won for five years against a team by which they had been beaten six times in a row.
There has been a comeback. The opposition was fierce, revolted against years of English and sometimes wonderfully French domination.
Full-back Shannon Izar crossed the field on a counterattack and found winger Cyrielle Banet, who rounded defenders to score.
The visitors ultimately built a 13 point lead. But somehow, miraculously, the tide has turned.
Nine minutes to go, Poppy Cleall ran into a maul – eight points in it. Then rising star Ellie Kildunne remained standing where many more would fall – a point to the left.
Then, as the clock turned red, there was a familiar hero. World Player of the Year and Six Nations Player of the Championship Emily Scarratt made another mark in the rugby history books as her penalty sealed a memorable victory.
And then there was even a humble leader. In the week that the Rugby Football Union rejected its classification as a “chic” sport, Captain Katy Daley-Mclean, replacing injured Sarah Hunter and becoming England’s third most capped player, took a moment to reflect on where she came from.
“To play for England is a huge honor,” she said. “As a South Shields girl, I never dreamed that I would be here like this, but it was a hell of a game. “
There were no fans, but when those present took in what they had just seen, Twickenham’s tune took on that magical hue of athletic perfection.
And it looks like the haze fell on the pitch and infused into the English male players as they walked onto the pitch around an hour after the women’s game ended.
Fans have been going back and forth on the team’s style of play since rugby’s return in October.
On the one hand, those who disapproved of the attacker-dominated victory over Georgia. On the other hand, those who were happy to achieve victory in any form.
But both sides rallied to notice that, against Ireland, scrum-half Ben Youngs received a quick penalty instead of giving captain Owen Farrell the chance to shoot on goal.
It wasn’t going to be like last week.
Several female players stepped into the limelight in the previous game and the men would not be eclipsed by the Red Roses’ scintillating performance.
Jonny May immediately intervened. The blast took place as Farrell’s wing kick hung in the afternoon sky.
May jumped up and reached higher than Irishman Hugo Keenan to gather and score, but that was just the start.
What happened next would have been dissected and repeated in pubs long into the night in pre-pandemic times, but is more likely a central theme in several Whatsapp groups now.
He came suddenly. May beat a 22-day defender on his own, then in the blink of an eye he was halfway up the pitch.
He continued with his own kick, beating Irish scrum half Jamison Gibson-Park, and he looked like he was caught a few yards from the tryline.
One more kick was all it took and he was on the other side, alongside Ben Cohen and Will Greenwood as England’s most prolific second scorer for men with 31.
For a moment, the vaccines, the festive bubbles and the masks faded – there was only rugby.
From there the match cooled down to simmer gently. England fans were keen to see how long their team could go without conceding a point.
Italy were the last team to score against them there are two matches but 215 minutes later Irishman Jacob Stockdale ended the unnecessary run.
Men’s head coach Eddie Jones caused a stir with some pre-game comments but, like his Red Roses counterpart Simon Middleton, he also said his team wanted to bring a smile to the fans.
In the end, both teams did more than that. They returned their supporters on Saturday.