Premiership's planned restart face stadium problem
NEWS: Premiership grounds such as The Rec, Welford Road and Kingsholm will all be in use for next month’s Premiership restart following a five-month layoff.
In April newspaper reports claimed that Twickenham, English Rugby’s HQ, would stage all the remaining 57 games as the stadium’s adjacent Marriott hotel was seen as a perfect way to keep the players safe in a controlled environment.
The Premiership, who will officially confirm its reschedule fixtures list at 16.00 UK Time on Friday, still needs to complete nine rounds of matches, as well as two semi-finals and a final, and it was feared in the initial stages of the pandemic outbreak that any Premiership restart would see teams go into isolation at select venues to ensure their health would not be compromised by a return to play.
However, rather than confining rugby’s return to just Twickenham, or a couple of other stadiums with similarily adjacent hotel facilities, the outlook in England has improved to such an extent that the regular home grounds for clubs will be down to host matches when the Premiership resumes from August 14.
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RugbyPass revealed on Thursday that the resumption will commence with the live TV collision of Chris Ashton’s new and old clubs – Harlequins and Sale – at The Stoop in London.
Northampton’s Franklin’s Gardens, Exeter’s Sandy Park and Bristol’s Ashton Gate will also host live TV games that opening weekend on BT Sport. Midweek fixtures will also be a feature in rugby’s resumption – for instance, Wasps will host Sale at the Ricoh with the kickoff on Tuesday, August 25.
There is still no word, though, on where London Irish will stage its remaining four matches. Their 20-year stay at the Madejski Stadium in Reading is over with the club supposed to be moving to a fresh groundshare in London with Brentford FC from September.
With the Premiership final scheduled for Twickenham on October 24, the day before England will host the Barbarians ahead of the October 31 conclusion to the Guinness Six Nations, the squad depths of the respective English clubs will be tested by a packed return schedule.
Aside from the league fixtures, it also includes European action for five of the English clubs, Saracens, Exeter and Northampton in the Champions Cup with Bristol and Leicester on Challenge Cup duty on the weekend of September 18.
The European finals are scheduled to be held the week before the Premiership decider at a venue to be determined after the showpieces were this week taken away from Marseille, the French port city that was due to host the games.
There are no indications, though, that fans will be able to attend any of their Premiership or European fixtures as the matches are all currently set to go ahead behind closed doors due to the virus restriction measures.