Thomond Park in Limerick, well nigh impregnable when it comes to European rugby as Sale found at the weekend, will be lost to Munster when the Irish provincial side take on Perpignan in their Heineken Cup quarter-final at the beginning of April. Despite howls of anguish from the local die-hards, the game will be played at Lansdowne Road in Dublin, which offers a capacity of 48,000 rather than 13,200. Whether the loss in passion will be offset by the increase in numbers remains to be seen.
"We played a semi-final against Wasps at Lansdowne Road in 2004 and filled the place," said the Munster spokesman Pat Geraghty yesterday. "We are not talking about a semi-final in this case, but in that year, when we played Stade Francais at Thomond Park in the last eight, people queued overnight for tickets. We value our supporters as the best in the world and we don't want to put them through that again. We want as many people as possible watching us play."
Munster's acceptance of the logic of moving for this fixture has been eased by the financial incentives offered by the Heineken Cup administrators. Had they stayed in Limerick, they would have been given 50 per cent of the gate money. By agreeing to play in Dublin, they will guarantee themselves 65 per cent.
Biarritz played a quarter-final across the Spanish border in San Sebastian last season, and intend to do likewise when they host Sale this time.
With Toulouse, drawn against Leinster, virtually certain to forsake Stade Ernest Wallon and move across town to Le Stadium, which has twice the capacity, only Leicester's plans are unclear. The Midlanders would no doubt prefer to hold their tie with Bath at Welford Road, but will come under pressure to shift the fixture to the Walkers Stadium, which can accommodate more than 30,000 spectators.
It is unlikely that Cardiff Blues will be playing in front of 30,000 any time soon after their Heineken Cup humbling at Leeds on Sunday. The chairman of the regional side, Peter Thomas, has spent a good deal of money on attracting international-class players to the Arms Park and he is running out of patience.
"It was heart-wrenching and humiliating," said Thomas, who will call the coach, David Young, before an emergency board meeting this week. "We were unbelievably bad."
Meanwhile, the French hierarchy have recalled some familiar figures - the Biarritz full-back Nicolas Brusque, the Stade Francais wing Christophe Dominici and the national captain, Fabien Pelous of Toulouse - for their opening Six Nations match with Scotland at Murrayfield. Brusque and Dominici missed the autumn internationals because of injury while Pelous was barred from playing in two games after elbowing Brendan Cannon, the Wallaby hooker, in the face.Reuse content