Saracens' sun break heads for Newlands


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The Independent Online

Saracens' much talked-about decision to play their Heineken Cup pool contest with Biarritz in sun-kissed Cape Town, as opposed to – er – wintry Watford, was being talked about even more yesterday as South African rugby officials demanded that the fixture go ahead at Newlands, one of the oldest and most evocative venues in the sport.

The Premiership club had initially intended to take January's match to the newer Cape Town Stadium, built for the 2010 football World Cup, but the Western Province union has decreed otherwise.

"According to the South African Rugby Union constitution, the final decision regarding the match venue lies in the hands of the host union," said a Western Province spokesman. "Our union's executive committee unanimously agreed that Newlands is currently the home of rugby here and will be treated as such for the foreseeable future."

No one at Saracens will be heartbroken by this, even though Newlands holds 10,000 fewer supporters than the 55,000-capacity rival stadium across town. For one thing, corporate hospitality opportunities are far greater at the rugby-dedicated ground; for another, the chance to perform on one of world rugby's premier stages will excite the players – even those of Sarries' large South African contingent who have made regular visits there in a previous life.

It should also be welcome news for the Heineken Cup administrators: television coverage of a European club game in such iconic surroundings will give the tournament quite a lift. However, those administrators will also be wary of the latest rumblings from the more ambitious Premiership teams – among whose number Saracens can certainly be counted – who remain dissatisfied by the competition's perceived lack of progress on the commercial front.

Last week, senior figures in the English club game could be heard talking about a potential breakaway from the current structure, perhaps with support from leading South African provincial sides, who are equally uncomfortable with the current southern hemisphere Super 15 set-up.

Largely South African-owned, Saracens will forge even closer links with rugby in the republic with this venture – just as their great London rivals Wasps attempted to do with business concerns in the Gulf by playing an Anglo-Welsh game in Abu Dhabi last season.

Meanwhile, reports have linked French businessman PY Gerbeau with the vacant chief executive's job at the Rugby Football Union – a governing body badly in need of fresh blood and fresh thinking.

Gerbeau, who currently runs a major leisure centre group, is best known for his work at the Millennium Dome, which he is credited with saving from financial calamity in 2000.