Premiership threatens to dump Twickenham
March 31, 2011
The Super Rugby clash between The Crusaders and The Sharks attracted a crowd of 35,094 © Getty Images
England's leading clubs have reportedly threatened to move the Aviva Premiership Final away from its traditional home at Twickenham.
The shock news comes in the wake of the Rugby Football Union's decision to stage the Super Rugby clash between The Crusaders and The Sharks at the stadium last weekend in a move that drew criticism from the clubs.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body representing England's leading clubs, has already begun exploring alternative venues, including Wembley and Old Trafford, for next year's final with the current deal with Twickenham understood to expire this season.
The newspaper reports that controversial proposal was first tabled at a Premiership Rugby board meeting earlier this month with one source saying the aim was to provide a "flashing red light" for the RFU ahead of any decision to provide a temporary home to the Crusaders who had seen their own stadium damaged by the February 22 earthquake that hit the city of Christchurch.
Due to the charitable aspect of the Super Rugby fixture - a percentage of the gate revenue was donated to the Red Cross Christchurch Earthquake fund - a decision was made not to oppose it publicly but Saracens chairman Nigel Wray, however, did criticise the move in the match programme of his club's match against Newcastle which was staged on the same day and saw a fall in attendance of 1,500 on the same fixture last season.
"We felt this game was the thin end of the wedge," a leading club official told the newspaper. "The RFU keeps saying it is our partner, particularly when it concerns the England team, and yet it then allows a game to be played at Twickenham, from a different tournament and hemisphere, on the very weekend when domestic rugby should have been given the opportunity to shine.
"Teams from Super 15 have been trying for the last three years to get a game played in London and there were other options, such as Durban and any of the other stadiums in New Zealand for this game to have been played. This was a commercial venture in every way, a commercial venture dressed up in charity clothing."
Simon Lewis, a spokesman for Premiership Rugby, confirmed that they were looking at alternative venues for the final next season, but said that commercial factors were also behind the decision. Twickenham is due to host the 2012 Heineken Cup final on May 19, seven days before the Premiership Final, while England are due to play the Barbarians at headquarters on the following day.
"With the prospect of three high-profile matches at Twickenham in eight days, it would be wrong of us not to look at other venues that could do a better job for us commercially," Lewis said. "With Twickenham also hosting the Heineken Cup next season and with the Barbarians game also going ahead the day after the Premiership final, trying to sell three big games to the same market at the same stadium would not be easy. It may make sense to move our final away from Twickenham next season."
The RFU refused to comment on the likelihood of the Premiership showpiece moving away from Twickenham but resolutely defended their decision to back the Super Rugby game. "English rugby moved heaven and earth to enable this game to go ahead because we thought it was a worthwhile cause," an RFU spokesman said. "The idea that this was a purely a commercial venture is nonsense. Hosting this game at Twickenham was about English rugby showing its support for the rugby family in New Zealand and the people of Christchurch who had been affected by the earthquake."
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