Sydney or Melbourne? Perhaps no single Wallaby has a better grasp than Stirling Mortlock on the pulsating vibe within the two stadiums vying to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup final.
And we really are talking “IN” the stadium as in the middle of the field helping to create history at Sydney’s Accor Stadium and the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The former Wallabies captain is etched in the folklore of both stadiums for his match-winning deeds and being part of epic team achievements.
Where the 2027 final is staged is the biggest question now Australia has a successful bid locked away.
Staging it at Sydney’s 80,000-seat stadium, where a retractable roof has been given the tick of approval in the latest NSW State Budget, has a synergy which makes perfect sense in Rugby’s greatest heartland.
It’s when you balance it against the MCG’s greater 100,000-seat capacity and commercial imperatives that you realise how tight this is as a two-horse race.
“I’m snookered a bit being born-and-bred in Sydney and living with my family in Melbourne for five years. Either venue would create the crazy cauldron befitting a World Cup final,” Mortlock said.
“When I last visited Melbourne, I had Victorians saying, ‘It’s a logical choice to play the final at the MCG’, which was quite funny. Is it? Sydney people will say something similar but you can’t pigeon-hole the final for Sydney either.
“Whichever way it goes, you are going to have a great amphitheatre as the stage for a truly global event.”
Mortlock grew up in Sydney and played most of his Super Rugby for the Brumbies but gained great insight into the sporting culture of the Victorian capital as the foundation captain of the Melbourne Rebels.
It was Mortlock careering away for an 80m intercept try which ignited the unforgettable upset at Stadium Australia (now Accor Stadium) in 2003. The Wallabies dumped the favoured All Blacks from the 2003 World Cup with a 22-10 stunner in their semi-final.
If that was the noise of 82,444 fans sounding like a rock band with speakers at maximum volume, Mortlock only had to wait a week to hear something louder.
There were only an extra 513 fans inside but this was the noise of gold-clad jet engines trained on the field from every corner and grandstand. And not a few English fans as well it must be said.
“The semi-final was awesome. Everyone knows what happened that day,” Mortlock recalls fondly.
“In the last 20 minutes of the final against England, I was yelling my head off just so Elton Flatley could hear me 5m away. I’ve got a really loud voice but no way was it going to carry to (flyhalf) ‘Bernie’ (Steve Larkham) another 5m away.
“The volume and atmosphere were amazing. I was a bit more equipped for it than when I played a Test at the stadium for the first time a few seasons earlier in 2000.
“That was the night of the world record crowd (109,874) and it was actually the first time I ever faced the All Blacks.”
Mortlock was an imposing influence in the centres at the MCG in 2007 when the Wallabies toppled the All Blacks in front of more than 79,000 fans. His angled run set up the Scott Staniforth try that helped win the Test 20-15.
“I’m thankful I got to play a couple of Tests on the hallowed turf and none bigger than the Test in 2007,” Mortlock said.
He attended an AFL grand final at the MCG and was in the Boxing Day crowd at the Ashes Test in 2006 when the late Shane Warne captured his 700th Test wicket.
“That breadth of experience gave me more idea of the city’s major events culture. The accessible sports precinct around the MCG is built to host massive events,” Mortlock said.
Sydney’s Olympic Stadium has been reconfigured from those days of 100,000-plus capacity to today’s Accor Stadium level of 80,000 seats with upgraded bars and hospitality.
The new 120m span of the high-definition video display at the southern end makes it the longest straight-run stadium display in the world. It is part of $10 million-plus in digital upgrades for fans at Accor Stadium.
The venue pumps at its best for major events. The opening of the WestConnex M4 tunnels have chopped access times by road and bus to better complement the well-grooved train network.
Getting the tick for the retractable roof is a potential game-changer for the 2027 final because it shows how intent the NSW Government is on staging it.
“The venue for the final in 2027 is a tough decision. The great thing is there being a lot of upside in both,” Mortlock said.
“It demands all the data points be analysed with a full methodology so we do get the best outcome for the World Cup and beyond.
“You have the legacy aspect at community level to drive grassroots Rugby. You have the commercial side to drive financial security for the game and you have the high-performance angle. All have a range of short, medium and long-term answers to weigh up.
“It’s not as easy as saying ‘we’ll take the extra dollars’.”
Right now, Mortlock is fascinated by tonight’s series decider at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground which pits the Wallabies against an England team guided by his old coach Eddie Jones.
Mortlock was delighted to see the comeback traits displayed by the Wallabies in the first Test win in Perth.
“We were getting back to our DNA as a Rugby country, really digging in when we were backs to the wall. It was terrific to watch,” Mortlock said.
“It was smart too, watching the attacks fulcrum off the halfback, the first receiver or the second receiver to keep the English guessing.
“Credit to Eddie and England in the second Test.
It should be a phenomenal decider.”