Former Wallaby Nick Stiles is certain Melbourne is the perfect choice to stage the 2027 Rugby World Cup final because hosting goes beyond just the stadium.
The decision on whether Perth's Optus Stadium, Sydney’s Accor Stadium or the Melbourne Cricket Ground is the setting for Rugby’s greatest showpiece will not be decided until next year.
Until that moment, the choice will be the source of spirited debate and manoeuvring. Best of all, there is no wrong answer when deciding between three such world-class venues.
Stiles is delighted to see Melbourne back as a Bledisloe Cup city with all eyes on Marvel Stadium for an enthralling Wallabies v All Blacks clash on Thursday night.
He has a considered take on just where he thinks the 2027 RWC final will work best now Australia has won the right to host the tournament.
He has soaked up all Melbourne has to offer as the Melbourne Rebels’ General Manager of Rugby. He was also based in Japan as coach of Kintetsu Liners throughout that country’s successful hosting of the 2019 tournament.
As a Wallabies prop, he saw Melbourne come alive in 2001 for the pivotal second Test of an epic series against the British and Irish Lions.
“It’s not just the venue experience but everything else that Melbourne can provide which sets it apart,” Stiles said.
“The whole fan experience in a condensed area is different to the other great stadiums in Australia.
“I’m talking 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 unparalleled.
“In Japan, I saw how important it was for the Rugby World Cup to be for fans without tickets to games as well as those inside the venues. The fan hubs were a big part of 2019.
“The incredible vibe and energy of the city for a big sporting event means it’s no cliché to say Melbourne is the sporting capital of the world.”
The MCG's 100,000-strong capacity makes it Australia's biggest stadium. The simple allure of setting a new record for biggest RWC crowd in history will be persuasive for some.
For now, it sits at the 89,297 fans drawn to Wembley in 2015 for the Ireland v Romania pool game in London.
Stiles hasn’t suddenly taken on a role with Visit Victoria. His opinion of Melbourne’s positives have 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 that series, the Wallabies had been ambushed by the British and Irish Lions at the Gabba where the grandstands were dripping with fans in red jerseys.
The chant “Lions, Lions, Lions” was a constant soundtrack. It is still one of the most remarkable sights of modern Australian Rugby because the Lions essentially were playing a home game in Australia.
It was emergency time for then-Australian Rugby Union supremo John O’Neill, commercial operations boss Brian Thorburn and the off-field team.
They had a week to turn it around. The question mark was relying on the Rugby outpost of Melbourne to play ball.
The ARU splashed out nearly $100,000 to get every gold cap and gold scarf in captivity to Melbourne for kick-off. The “be bold, wear gold” mantra was embraced in Melbourne.
Gold, finally, swamped red off the field as well as on it. Melbourne fans roared and celebrated two Joe Roff tries and a 35-14 victory for the Wallabies.
Gold glitter tumbling down from the roof of what is now Marvel Stadium made the night unforgettable for more than 56,000 fans.
That night changed the way Wallabies’ fans supported their team. More fans wore gold of their own accord. Women’s supporters’ jerseys were made.
“That 2001 Test in Melbourne changed the way fans supported the Wallabies with team colours, scarves and so on. It was a special night,” Stiles said.
Melbourne had a frontline role in the hosting of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The then-Docklands Stadium hosted as many matches (seven) as Sydney’s Stadium Australia and only Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium staged more.
More than 284,000 fans turned out in Melbourne, many of them Kiwis because 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 in time with a visit to a salon to have his legs waxed.
Unfortunately, Rugby writer Claire Harvey had reason to attend the same salon. Her tongue-in-cheek story that the Kiwi hard men of world Rugby were now using something less than a chainsaw for personal manicuring was a classic.
It even had All Blacks great Colin Meads shaking his head at what his game had come to.
Fullback Matt Burke scored a try and banged over plenty of kicks in the Wallabies’ victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2001. As much as anyone, he lit the flame for big-time Rugby in Melbourne.
In 1998, the smooth-moving fullback scored all 24 points as the Wallabies upset the All Blacks 24-16 at the MCG in a Test that ushered a stunning series sweep of the Kiwis.
“Burke 24, All Blacks 16” screamed one newspaper headline.
“Melbourne, the All Blacks, 75,000 fans. It was one of those games that football players dream out, the match when everything seems to go just right,” Burke wrote in his book Matthew Burke: A Rugby Life.
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 power home clinically as the dominant team.
It was coach Rod Macqueen’s first time in charge for a Bledisloe Cup Test. He came up with a new way for the Wallabies to respect the haka, but also take a little of the sting out of it immediately before the Test.
The Wallabies faced the haka but were still wearing their tracksuits. After the fierce warrior challenge had stirred the Kiwi players and fans alike, the Wallabies took their own quiet pause in a circle to remove their outer garments.
Pre-Test, Burke was forthcoming when the media asked about his philosophy when facing the All Blacks.
“People tend to put the All Blacks on a pedestal but they’re only human. They bleed red blood like the rest of us. And they’re very beatable. The keys are not to be intimidated, to play your own game as planned and not to be sucked into theirs … and to play for every last one of the 80 minutes,” Burke said.
Play for every last one of the 80 minutes … that formula has never changed.