Premiership Rugby ponder Old Trafford switch
December 15, 2011
Could the Aviva Premiership Final be switched to Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium? © Getty Images
Premiership Rugby are reportedly considering moving the Aviva Premiership Final from its traditional home at Twickenham to Manchester's Old Trafford ground in a bid to engage rugby fans in the north of England.
English club rugby's showpiece event could be staged at the world-famous home of football giants Manchester United as early as 2013 according to PA Sport. There have also been talks about England playing a warm-up match against an invitational team of Premiership players in Bolton next May before they embark on a three-Test tour of South Africa.
The chances of that fixture happening appear to have receded over the last two months - but there is a strong desire within Premiership Rugby, the clubs' umbrella body, to take their showpiece final to the north. It is understood that Premiership Rugby is yet to sign a new deal with the Rugby Football Union over the future use of Twickenham for the final.
Premiership Rugby would hope to have the support of the RFU over the venture given their urgent need to sell Rugby World Cup tickets at Old Trafford, St James' Park, Anfield and Elland Road in 2015. The RFU have had to guarantee an £80million payment to the International Rugby Board and ticket sales will be their only revenue stream. Tournament organisers need to shift an ambitious 2.8million tickets to hit their target, an average of over 58,000 per game.
The last four Premiership finals have attracted crowds in excess of 80,000 to Twickenham. Old Trafford would be the most likely northern venue. Sale and Newcastle are the only top-flight clubs in the north and both have won the Premiership title but neither has managed to build any sustained success.
The community game is still strong but engaging those rugby fans is one of Premiership Rugby's key objectives and they have set up a specific working group for it. One idea was for England to play an invitational Premiership team - perhaps resurrecting The North as a concept - at the Reebok Stadium on May 30.
There is a window for it. The 2012 Premiership final and England's traditional Barbarians fixture are at Twickenham the previous weekend and the first Test in South Africa is not until June 9. It is understood the idea is not completely dead in the water but it now seems unlikely there will be enough time to organise it.
England played New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1997 and Argentina at the same stadium in 2009, in what was technically an away fixture. They also played two World Cup qualifiers in Huddersfield in 1998 and the Premiership All-Stars at Anfield in preparation for the tournament in 1999.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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