Union stadia are near 'crisis point'

Click to follow

Rugby Union is on the brink of creating a couple of historic landmarks. First, the England head coach, Andy Robinson, has confirmed that the national squad will spend three days, 17 to 19 January, training with Super League's Leeds Rhinos, 110 years after the split which saw the birth of the two codes.

Rugby Union is on the brink of creating a couple of historic landmarks. First, the England head coach, Andy Robinson, has confirmed that the national squad will spend three days, 17 to 19 January, training with Super League's Leeds Rhinos, 110 years after the split which saw the birth of the two codes.

Then, on the day that Gloucester announced they intend increasing the capacity at their Kingsholm ground to 17,000, Premier Rugby announced that the Zurich Premiership is about to create a little bit of history. The six fixtures over the New Year weekend will be played in front of more than 64,000, with a sell-out at every ground.

Worcester, Bath, Northampton, Gloucester and Harlequins are already sell-outs, while Newcastle, having sold more than 7,500 tickets, expect to sell the rest in the next few days.

In Gloucester's case a sell-out is currently 13,000, but yesterday they revealed they have been given the go-ahead to replace their grandstand, which houses the changing rooms and main bars, with a new 7,000 capacity all-seater stand at a cost of £5m.

The Cherry and Whites aim to have it ready for the start of the 2005-06 season, although they might have to put it back depending on the logistics.

But Premier Rugby chief executive, Howard Thomas, fears this boom for rugby union could turn to bust if more funding is not found to enlarge stadia all over the country.

Thomas said: "Clubs desperately need to increase and improve their stadia It is realistic to believe we can expect more sold out weekends in the future. We are almost at crisis point in terms of our stadia.

"Premier Rugby is pursuing all avenues, including working with Sport England and the Government, to raise the necessary funding."

Spectator logistics are of more immediate concern to Leicester, who expect 1,500 to 2,000 supporters to make the trip to Italy for their final Heineken Cup Pool One match against Calvisano.

The match has been switched to a stadium that has floodlights, but can house just 1,000, compared with Calvisano's own 4,500. The Italians say they can increase capacity to almost 2,000 with temporary seating, but Tigers want further talks with ERC.

Sale yesterday announced that they had signed the Tongan centre John Payne, a former member of the NSW Waratahs B side, while Northampton have also headed south to recruit and have signed the New Zealand back-rower Iona Sipa on a two month trial.

Comments