IF the 2015 Rugby World Cup organisers were in town on Sunday afternoon then they would surely have been impressed by what they witnessed at stadium:mk.
The home of MK Dons is on a 17-venue long list for the World Cup, which in 2015 returns to England for the first time in 24 years. The 12 stadiums to stage matches will be confirmed in 2013, with stadium:mk up against the likes of Pride Park in Derby, Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, Brighton’s Amex Stadium and St Mary’s in Southampton to play a part.
And Sunday brought another chance for the people of Milton Keynes to show their support for the bid, with more than 18,000 rugby fans – many of them from the city – turning out to watch the Aviva Premiership clash between Saracens and Northampton Saints.
The game itself was a fairly scrappy one, but the occasion will be remembered for a dramatic finish which saw Saints – whose supporters made up the majority inside a packed stadium:mk – denied victory with the last meaningful kick of the game.
With Saracens leading 17-16, Stephen Myler attempted to convert a penalty from inside his own half, but the Saints fly-half watched as the ball bounced back off the crossbar.
First half tries from John Smit and Phil Dowson had given the fans something to cheer about as just one point separated the teams at the interval. But the result would be decided on which side had the best accuracy from distance, and Owen Farrell came off the bench to make the difference for Saracens.
It was the fifth top flight rugby match to be staged at stadium:mk, including three Heineken Cup matches involving Saints, and the near-faultless organisation of the event will no doubt earn Milton Keynes a few extra brownie points with the Rugby World Cup organisers.
This particular game was made all the more impressive given the fact that more than 13,000 fans had watched Dons entertain Coventry City the day before, and the on-field preparations for the Premiership clash only began after the final whistle in that game – less than 24 hours before Saints and Saracens took to the field.
Thousands made use of the ‘fans’ village’ situated inside the arena next to stadium:mk, with a family friendly atmosphere created before the game as supporters made use of the bar and numerous food stalls.
The operation to turn the football ground into an outstanding venue for first class rugby is now a tried and tested one – and hugely successful.
Given the positive response to the game, and the four preceding it, stadium:mk must surely be one of the favourites amongst the competing venues to stage matches in 2015.
And with the top tier of the ground set to be completed long before then, missing out now would feel like an injustice.