SADLY, at the Liberty Stadium there was no option to turn off the fake crowd noise.

Supporters hadn’t been in the stands since Swansea City’s goalless draw with West Bromwich Albion in March but the ground had hosted five football games behind closed doors in the conclusion of the Championship.

Sunday was rugby’s first encounter as the Dragons turned to action after six months out against the Ospreys.

It was always going to be different and it will continue to be odd until small crowds are allowed into stadiums, undoubtedly an easier task at a spacious ground like the Liberty with plenty of space outside than at Rodney Parade.


A return to big crowds just seems a long way off at the moment, so everyone will have to make the most of a bad situation.

Sadly for fans that meant watching on Premier Sports live or S4C later in the evening, listening to BBC Wales or scrolling through the updates on the Argus website (where you can always find reports and reaction swiftly after the final whistle).

Luckily the Argus was among the accredited media allowed into the Liberty Stadium, giving me the chance to cover the Dragons for the first time since that deflating March defeat to Benetton and a live game for the first time since Cross Keys won at Ystalyfera in the Championship on the day that Wales had supposed to host Scotland.

Who would have thought that I would have longed for a crowd as big as there was at the Ynysydarren Ground.

When the Premier League returned, the sound of players playing in empty stadia led broadcasters to add sounds from the stands.

South Wales Argus:

The Ospreys mirrored that in a rather more crude way by piping through constant noise of crowd cheering at the same tone. Unlike TV, the ‘fans’ didn’t get more excited close to the line or react to decisions.

It only stopped for kicks at goal or when the physios headed onto the pitch. Thankfully, like U2, you eventually got used to the droning and it just became background noise.

The working day started in the Liberty Stadium car park, just down from a Covid testing centre, setting up the live blog using phone data rather than while being in the media centre.

Broadcasters were allowed into the ground 90 minutes before kick-off, written media and photographers 75 minutes before.

South Wales Argus:

Players arrived in their own cars rather than on a team bus – things will be more challenging for the Bristol quarter-final, let alone the start of the new PRO14 season.

A socially-distanced chat with friends and colleagues that I hadn’t seen in half a year next to our cars then at 1pm it was the new check that all of us do: phone, wallet, keys, face mask, hand sanitiser.

Then it was a temperature check on the door, medical questionnaire and straight to an assigned seat in the stands.

It was all so quiet.

South Wales Argus:

“Richie, do you want crowd noise while warming up?” was the question for Ospreys coach Pugh. After a quick check, put on the music playlist was the verdict.

If players going through their preparation to the sound of the Foo Fighters was reassuringly normal, the announcer running through the team line-ups to a near-empty ground wasn’t.

“That is your Ospreys 23!” followed by silence and then one person clapping.

The teams went into their changing room and then Dragons coaches Simon Cross and Barry Maddocks struggled to get up to the Dragons management’s bench at the top of the West Stand; after not having the right (red) wristbands they were, rightly given the coronavirus circumstances, denied access until one arrived.

Then the Dragons came out to nothing and then the odd clap, followed by the Ospreys to piped music.

Unlike other games, the fake crowd prevented the chance to hear the players’ calls loudly or shouts from the coaches.

Then there was the turning point of the game – George North clattered Ashton Hewitt in the air but there were no oohs from the stands.

South Wales Argus:

Referee Adam Jones took his time then made the only decision of a red card, which he brandished in silence. North trudged off, without any sympathetic applause or jeers.

It was a situation as odd as the final stages when the Dragons hammered away at the line without home fans roaring their appreciation at turnovers, or venting their frustration at Ashton Hewitt’s last-gasp leveller or relief at Sam Davies’ missed conversion.

It was a world away from the wild scenes at Rodney Parade in January when centre Adam Warren’s breakaway try beat the Ospreys.

Post-match was pretty normal thanks to bosses Toby Booth and Dean Ryan not being keen on the PRO14’s suggestion of a post-match interview on Zoom rather than in person.

They stood on the steps of the stand a few metres away from masked journalists (we were all spread out).

There was no media room so work was finished in the stands to the sound of the groundstaff mowing the pitch and then taking down the posts.

At just gone 7pm it was time to leave the Liberty Stadium: phone, wallet, keys, face mask, a splodge hand sanitiser.

Onto a near-empty Rodney Parade and Ashton Gate.