Cardiff still likely to stage 2002 final

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The Independent Online

The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff remains the strong favourite to stage next year's Challenge Cup final despite doubts over the state of its pitch and its availability.

The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff remains the strong favourite to stage next year's Challenge Cup final despite doubts over the state of its pitch and its availability.

Like football, rugby league has had to take its annual showpiece on the road during the rebuilding of Wembley, with last year's final successfully transplanted to Murrayfield and tomorrow's to Twickenham.

League officials had hoped to make an announcement soon to confirm that the 2002 final would be at the new stadium in Cardiff, which hosted rugby league for the first time last year when Wales played New Zealand in the World Cup. But the situation has been complicated by the Football Association's threat to take its big occasions elsewhere if the pitch at the Millennium Stadium does not measure up to their requirements.

"There is a 10-day exclusion clause preventing any games being played immediately before the Cup final,'' said a Rugby Football League spokesman, John Huxley.

"That could have implications for the date of our final, but we are in discussions with the Stadium and with Cardiff City Council and the Millennium Stadium is still the likeliest venue for next year's final.''

Other possibilities would be a return to either Murrayfield or Twickenham. The only football ground in the country with a capacity close to the Challenge Cup final's needs is Old Trafford, which stages the Super League Grand Final at the end of the season, but Manchester United are concerned about the impact of rugby on their playing surface.

Tomorrow's game between Bradford and St Helens at Twickenham, the second rugby league match at the home of rugby union following last year's World Cup opener between England and Australia, is heading for a sell-out, with over 66,000 of the ground's 70,700 seats sold by yesterday afternoon.

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