Daily Express, December 5, 2009

This home of rugby is pitch perfect

DUNCAN CRAIG checks in to the Twickenham Marriott to test out its newly opened stadium-view suites

“WAKE up,” hissed my wife. “I think there’s something outside the window.” “Go back to sleep,” I mumbled into my Egyptian cotton pillow. “It’s probably nothing.”

But as I lay there in the half-light of our lavish hotel room, I couldn’t deny that there was indeed a certain something emanating from behind the black-out curtains. It sounded like, well, 82,000 people going completely barmy. 

Like most sports fans, I’ve seen numerous matches live, countless more lazing in bed. Never had I combined the two. 

Yet here in the Twickenham Marriott, ensconced in the Home Of Rugby’s glinting South Stand, such slothful spectatorship is positively encouraged. 

Ever the cynic, I had assumed the “pitch-view” suite would feature little more than a porthole-sized opening and neighbouring-postcode proximity. The reality as I stepped into the room made my jaw hit the floor. 

Beyond the bed were large, softly tinted windows framing an uninterrupted view of the entire ground: a vast, elliptical bowl of sea-green seats flowing down to a pitch as vivid and flawless as a snooker baize. 

Even those fiercely indifferent to the sport would concede that it is a commanding sight. Twickenham is one of the great sporting cathedrals. 

And any fan of course will be mesmerised, the views of the 100-year-old hallowed turf unleashing memories of titanic clashes, last-gasp tries and a certain voluptuous flasher.

There are six of the newly opened suites on a swipecard-accessed floor at the hotel’s apex. Non-matchday demand is already high. But rather like sleeping in the same bed as Scarlett Johansson – three weeks later – the thrill will be tempered by anticlimax. Synchronising your stay with a game is the ideal, and I was lucky enough to check in to “HQ” at the same time as the mighty All Blacks.

Like most sports fans, I’d seen numerous matches live, countless more lazing in bed. Never had I combined the two

I’m afraid the suite’s soothing auburn and sand tones and king-size bed were rather lost on me. Giddy with anticipation, I had a disturbed night. 

Every couple of hours I’d wake and sneak a peek at the partially lit ground, half-expecting to see the obsessively dedicated Jonny Wilkinson lining up practice kicks. Hence our oversleeping. 

As decadently appealing as it would have been to stay in bed for the game, it was not an option – we had guests arriving. 

For those wishing to push the boat out, each of the suites has an adjoining room with sofa, boardroom-style table, TV and, the pièce de résistance, an outdoor balcony with seating for eight visitors.

With the atmosphere in the ground building, I went down to greet my group. 

Confined by the stand, this ultra-contemporary, 156-room hotel maximizes its limited space. The four communal areas are open-plan and interlinked, occupying two floors in the stadium’s curved south-west corner.

Natural light cascades into the marble lobby, with its red-leather recliners and shelves of rugby memorabilia; so too the adjoining Side Step bar, dominated by two 82-inch plasma screens and double-height windows shared with the partially mezzanined 22 South Chophouse above.

The restaurant’s décor, as throughout, is functional yet fun – chromatic unrest verging on a full-scale riot of colour. 
The seats are a medley of amber, lime and crimson arranged around illuminated pillars of burnt orange. A scrum of eight rugby-themed canvases maul the far wall. 

Here, my wife and I had dined the previous evening on hearty, patriotic fare: Cornish beef fillet with truffle oil; Lancashire chicken with lemon thyme; and a dry white from Denbies in Surrey. 

A few rugby types were present but just as many were non-fans. 

The hotel’s prime positioning ensures a clientele as diverse as its international, invariably excellent staff. 

A few spectators waved, some just their middle fingers, but it was all typically good-natured

The A316 south-west artery is 100 yards away, Heathrow six miles and central London a short walk and 20-minute rail journey. And some of south-west London’s finest attractions, from Hampton Court Palace to Kew Gardens, are within easy reach. 

The atmosphere had been muted then. Now it was abuzz. I led my group through the mêlée to the lift. “Which floor?” The question came from former England captain Bill Beaumont. 

He looked up to see all of us beaming inanely at him. If your rugby autograph book still has a few gaps, this is your hotel. 

Back in the suite, the atmosphere was oddly serene. 

The near-soundproof windows, soft lighting and drawing room-style furnishings ensure a refined air. We sipped wine, tinkered with our pristine food (a four-course meal is served on match days) and even attempted a political conversation. Our hearts weren’t in it, though. 

The maelstrom awaiting just the other side of the balcony door was what we craved. 

Stepping out, the noise was overwhelming. Taking our seats just behind the rear-most row of the stand, we attracted envious glances. A few spectators waved, some just their middle fingers, but it was all typically good-natured. 

The purist would blanch at watching sport in such lofty segregation. Let him. When things got too tense we could step inside for a breather. For contentious decisions, we spun round for the Sky Sports replay. Toilet break or another drink? No missed action or gauntlet of tutting for us. 

The game was over in a flash, England failing to really trouble the All Blacks. Our guests departed, some to nearby Richmond with its boutique shops, bustling riverbank and London’s best park, others to the adjacent World Rugby Museum. 

As the thousands streamed out of the rain-soaked ground, braced for clogged roads and backed-up trains, I put my feet up on the balcony with a beer. 

Carlsberg don’t do hotel rooms, but if they did…well, they’d probably only be the second best hotel rooms in the world.

* THE KNOWLEDGE: London Marriott Hotel Twickenham (020 8891 8200/www.londonmarriotttwickenham.co.uk) offers pitch-view suites on non-match days from £299 per night (two sharing), room only. The suites are available, with match-day hospitality, for England’s RBS Six Nations games against Wales (February 6) and Ireland (Feb 27). Price on application. Night At The Museum package from £125 (two sharing), including one night’s accommodation, breakfast, tickets to the World Rugby Museum and stadium tour.