Dismal ticket sales put Heineken organisers on the back foot
April 24, 2013
So much rugby can lead to spectator apathy - as seen here during the 2010 Heineken Cup match between Edinburgh v Castres at Murrayfield - but high-profile games usually attract good crowds © Getty Images
Record Heineken Cup semi-final attendances
Saracens face playing their Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulon this weekend in front of empty stands after it emerged that only 20,000 tickets have been sold for the game at Twickenham.
The decision to stage the match at the 82,000-capacity stadium was taken by ERC which has full control over deciding the venues for the semi-finals and final of the competition. Although Saracens have played previously at Wembley - and attracted good crowds - that ground was unavailable. The news left ERC scrambling to put a positive spin on its decision.
"With just a three-week lead in to the Heineken Cup semi-finals, venues are pre-selected," an ERC spokesman told the Times. "There was no suitable venue for the semi-final in the area with a capacity in the region of 30,000 available to ERC and the RFU.
"Twickenham was selected from the limited number of available venues. It was the first choice of Saracens, provided best access for travelling fans and works well with a 32,000-capacity in the lower bowl, with the potential to increase to meet demand."
While ERC will be hoping for a late surge in interest, a return to poor weather at the weekend is likely to deter casual fans, as are the the ticket prices, which start at £35. To add to the embarrassment of such a showcase match being played against a backdrop of banks of empty seats, the annual Army v Navy match this Saturday has advance sales of 71,000.
And the presence of Jonny Wilkinson, who is expected to line up for Toulon, was also expected to bring in the crowds. He has re-committed to the Top 14 side on a one-year deal, but Sunday's match could possibly be the last time supporters in England get to see the World Cup-winner run out at Twickenham.
Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths agreed it was "not ideal" but remained diplomatic while pointing out the issue went to the heart of the debate over who should control the competition. "The ERC executive are operating within the guidelines that they need to operate within," he told the paper. "What I would say, though, is that if you think there is something inherently wrong with a competition run by unions and played by clubs, yes there probably is.
"The Champions League in football is not run by the FA, the German Football Association and the French Federation. It would be interesting to see what it would look like if it was."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham