Submerged pitch may scupper Cup final

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The Independent Online

It was all hands to the pumps again last night as efforts were made to ensure that tomorrow's Challenge Cup final will go ahead at Murrayfield. The advanced guard for the code's big day - moved to Edinburgh because of doubts about Wembley's availability - arrived to find headlines reading: "month's rain falls in one day".

Those of a superstitious bent might have looked at a Murrayfield three foot under water and presumed that Scottish rugby union ghosts had been spinning in their graves sufficiently to rupture a water main. What had actually happened was that the Water Of Leith had burst its banks after the torrential downpour, flooding the stadium and putting the bold plan of playing the final north of the border two days later in jeopardy. "When I came in this morning there wasn't a blade of grass visible," said the Scottish Rugby Union's spokesman, Graham Law.

Rugby League officials arrived to find their showpiece under threat. "It was three feet deep in parts on the pitch and that's no exaggeration," said the RFL's acting chief executive, Dave Callaghan. "Everybody wants the game to go ahead on Saturday, for obvious reasons." He said the League would wait until this afternoon before making a decision.

A bigger threat than the flood waters, which were receding once the Lothian and Borders Fire Service began pumping water out of the adjoining Roseburn Park, was the lack of any power at the stadium. With the clocks stopped at 20.51 to record the time on Wednesday night when the damage was done, the problem was all too apparent. "The pitch will be playable with two days' drying time, I'm confident of that," said the RFL's director of referees Greg McCallum, when he arrived for an inspection. "But the power is the issue."

The two governing bodies, plus the ground safety staff and emergency services will make their inspections this morning. "We are conscious that people will be ready to travel from Leeds and Bradford, but this is something out of our control and we hope people will be understanding," Callaghan said.

There are two contingency plans which have been discussed. One is for the game to be put back 24 hours and played at Murrayfield on Sunday, although that in itself would cause all sorts of difficulties for travelling fans. The other would be to use the date and venue already earmarked for a reply - 10 May at Elland Road - for the postponed match.

Either course of action would have severe financial implications for the League. Although it is insured for this sort of calamity, refunding a large slice of the more than £1m taken in ticket sales to a capacity crowd would cut deep into the profit it expects to make annually from the event.

"It would be a blow, but it's fair to say that we are very hopeful it will go ahead," said Callaghan.

"Work will be going on through the night to try to make sure that it does."

In the background, a most appropriate group of volunteers went about their job of trying to make themselves useful. It is surely providential that the Scottish navy now has a rugby league team.