Peter Bills: Clubs should be lauded for ambition

Despite the negative reaction in a few quarters to my suggestion last week that the Heineken semi-finals ought to have been staged in far bigger stadiums, the evidence mounts of huge successes for clubs who have boldly taken ordinary club games to larger venues.

The remarkable 47,106 Saracens drew to Wembley for their Guinness Premiership match against Harlequins at the weekend was a triumph for their determination to be adventurous, to push the boundaries. By no means everything Saracens have done this season has been meritorious in my eyes, but I applaud the club's ambition and courage in this respect.



Sure, they could have come a cropper because Wembley is not a cheap venue to hire. Some, like my critics from last week, would doubtless have rubbished the idea that an ordinary Premiership game between two London teams would have lured almost 50,000 to Wembley. Imagine that, just a few years ago!



But clubs like Saracens are pushing the boundaries and they are getting the support and results their ambition deserves.



London Wasps are trying something similar this coming weekend. They have hired Twickenham for the game against Bath and expectations are that a similar crowd to Wembley last weekend, around 50,000, will turn up.



Whichever way you look at it, this is an absolute triumph for the Guinness Premiership and for those clubs willing to back a hunch. And intriguingly, a similar picture is unfolding across the Channel in France. Last weekend, RC Toulon hired the 60,000 capacity Velodrome stadium in Marseille for their Top 14 match against the champions Perpignan.



The atmosphere was extraordinary; a sea of flags with the colours of both clubs and a vibrant atmosphere. At Toulon's cosy but very small ground in the middle of their town, the capacity is just 13,700. Yet they drew an astonishing 58,250…a quite remarkable difference.



Nor was this the sole example of clubs taking a punt on whether they can lure greater audiences in better stadia. Bourgoin, one of the least fashionable of the French Top 14 clubs who have struggled desperately against relegation all season, have a capacity of just 8,160 at their tiny Stade Pierre Rajon.



Last Saturday, they met Stade Toulouse and moved the fixture to the Stade Gerland in Lyon, home of the soccer Champions League semi-finalists Olympique Lyonnais. In an instant, even a sell-out 8,160 was transformed into a 30,000 crowd.



By any measure or means, these are extraordinary figures. What they reveal is a clear desire among a healthy percentage of the sports viewing population in both England and France to pay to see good quality rugby matches in top notch stadiums. As far as I'm aware, Bourgoin haven't sold out their crumbling old stadium once this season. Yet the minute they move to the major commercial hub of Lyon, they draw 30,000.



The man who started all this in France and England was Stade Francais owner Max Guazzini, the most innovative businessman rugby union has seen either side of the Channel in decades. I remember talking with Guazzini at his Paris office a year or two back, not long after he'd filled the 80,000 capacity Stade de France for an ordinary Top 14 league game between Stade Francais and Biarritz Olympique.



He smiled, and confessed "The first time we did this, when I was driving to the Stade de France for the game, I thought to myself 'You must be mad – how can we sell enough tickets to meet our costs for this event'".



But that was just the point. Guazzini made these matches 'an event' and people have flocked in ever since for them, in both France and England.

Now no-one is saying that if Saracens played every home game at Wembley, they'd get nearly 50,000. Nor do Toulon believe they could virtually sell out the atmospheric Velodrome in Marseille for every match of their season.



But it is perfectly possible to discern a serious trend here. Which leads me back to the Heineken semi-finals. Why on earth wouldn't ERC twice come close to selling out Paris, or the San Siro, Milan or Croke Park, Dublin for two matches of the magnitude of their semis?



The likes of Saracens, Toulon and Bourgoin are proving the point by their ambition.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing