RUGBY UNION:The new Twickers heads up-market

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The Independent Online
BY TIM GLOVER

England yesterday received permission to release an extra 2,000 seats in the new West Stand at Twickenham for the Five Nations climax against Scotland a week tomorrow. "Welcome," the Rugby Football Union said, "to the Colosseum of the second millennium." When it comes to the new Twickers, the RFU speaks only in multiples of thousands, relating to the crowd, and millions, referring to the price of what they now describe as the "finest stadium in the world''.

"When the West piece of the jigsaw is completed in November, it will bring the capacity to 75,000 and the cost of rebuilding Twickenham to £65m. The RFU can hardly wait to fill every available seat, which explains why 2,000 freshly printed tickets, for spanking new seats, will be distributed through its clubs next week. It will raise the crowd for the Scotland showdown to 61,000.

"It is no coincidence that England's advance on the field marches in step with the redevelopment of Twickenham to its final grand design," Tony Hallett, the chairman of the ground committee, said. "The one inspires the other. We tend to win Grand Slams every time we build a new stand." A Scotsman pointed out that Scotland tended to follow the same pattern at Murrayfield.

After completing the new North and East stands three years ago, England raised money through debentures, selling nearly 7,000 for £16.5m. Yesterday, they launched Rose Debenture 2 for the East and West stands, making 3,900 seats available at prices ranging from £1,670 (an individual with a right to buy tickets for seven years) to £6,850 (a company for 10 years). Gavin Hastings, the Scotland captain, is selling debentures on behalf of the Scottish Rugby Union - a Murrayfield ticket for 50 years for £1,250.

However, the RFU is talking about a Rose Bowl and an "all- day Twickenham experience". You can still enjoy the al fresco experience of game pie and a pickled onion from a car boot in a muddy field adjacent to what used to be known as Billy Williams's old cabbage patch, but the new Twickers would prefer you ventured inside. There you can choose from 22 bars with up-market additions with names like Obolenskys, Chariots of Fire and the Invincibles rubbing shoulders with old favourites like the Scrum and the Lineout.

The game itself will be only a small part of the "Twickenham experience". There will be guided tours, taking in a "state-of-the-art" museum, a shop the size of an aircraft hangar selling everything from Rose pillow cases to fridge magnets and a visit to the changing-rooms beneath the West Stand. England's is the only one with a special warm-up area and that is bound to get up the noses of the Scots.

There is something else that will probably upset them. In the off season, the RFU is planning to sell miniature Calcutta Cups to tourists, who will have their photograph taken beneath the posts. There is even talk of blades of Twickenham grass being sold, although as yet they have not got round to marketing Billy's old cabbages.

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