In round 8 of the Griffin Legal John I Dent Cup, Wests hosted the Gungahlin Eagles on a crisp yet sunny Canberra afternoon at Jamison Oval in Belconnen.
The playing ground is conveniently located near Jamison Plaza, where fans can grab a coffee or a snack before the game, and plenty of car parks means it is easy to find a spot within short walking distance of the field.
With a hot coffee and my copy of this week’s The Stampede, I went to find myself a seat to catch the end of the second-grade game before the main event kicked off at 3:05pm.
I found myself surrounded by a pleasant mixture of young and old, with the majority of the crowd seeming to be the friends and families of the players from across all the different grades.
I sat down next to Belconnen local James and his friend Wade. Both young men grew up in Canberra playing junior rugby, and they were able to tell me all sorts of stories about playing with and against a number of the first graders taking the field.
Canberra has always been a good producer of rugby talent, and our local competition has become very strong in recent years. Wade tells me that it still amazes him how far payers like recent All Blacks debutant Tyrel Lomax have gone.
“Seeing how good Tyrel is going really amazes me. I mean, he was always a great player, but I never thought I’d be able to say I grew up playing against a future All Black.”
The match itself was a thrilling affair, with Wests taking a slim 10-5 lead into the sheds at half time.
The vocal crowd was right behind the home team; however, it became apparent when the Eagles scored that there was also a strong contingent of Gungahlin fans in attendance.
I took advantage of the break in the action to see what food was available at the canteen, but heartbreakingly the ladies had already sold out of all their hot food.
Not to be discouraged, I grabbed a couple of Killer Pythons and asked Dale behind the counter what made the club so special.
“The canteen ladies of course,” she laughed.
“My husband manages first grade, my daughter plays for Wests and now my grandson plays for Wests as well, so I guess just the comradery and the close-knit community we have.”
“But the canteen ladies hold this place together, our food is so good we sold out of all our hot food already!"
Despite the usual sausage sizzles and steak sandwiches which were no longer available, hungry pundits could grab the standard chips, lollies and chocolate bars at the canteen; or cold beverages from the fridge if they were feeling thirsty.
Also available from the canteen was a range of Wests merchandise. Fans of the club can stay warm in winter with Lion emblazoned trackpants, sleeveless vests and puffer jackets, as well as blue and maroon scarves and beanies.
For training or the gym, there are also two different singlet designs available for purchase as well as polo shirts and shorts. Returning to my comfortable seat out of the wind in the sheltered stands, I buckled myself in for a second half of action that did not disappoint.
Gungahlin showed why they are at the top of the rankings after 8 rounds with a dominant performance, but a Wests try with 15 minutes remaining in the match guaranteed no one was going to leave before full time.
Ultimately a drop goal and a penalty kick late in the game for the visitors ensured they remain at the top with a 32-22 victory, while Wests will rue the missed opportunity to creep back up the table.
The friendly crowd didn’t seem too upset with the result, and there was a lot of congratulations for the visiting players.
That was something that really stood out for me in Jamison: it really did seem like a nice place to watch rugby with nice people.
Young families and friendly people are a staple at Canberra’s John I Dent Cup games, and this game at Wests’ home ground really put that on display.