The Premiership Rugby chief executive, Simon Massie-Taylor, believes England’s top flight must be “open-minded” about staging the final away from Twickenham as they seek to turn the showpiece event into a national sporting moment on a par with the Grand National.
Twickenham has held every Premiership final since the playoffs were introduced to determine the league’s winner in 2003 and will stage Saturday’s showdown between Saracens and Leicester. Under the terms of the Professional Game Agreement with the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby is contractually obliged to stage its final at Twickenham but that deal is due to expire in 2024 with renegotiations set to begin this summer.
Massie-Taylor has also revealed that Premiership Rugby is considering adopting a double-header model for its semi-finals, which would see both matches staged in the same stadium, citing the success of France’s Top 14, which will hold both fixtures in Nice this weekend. The Top 14 traditionally holds its final at the Stade de France but nearly 100,000 spectators watched Racing 92 beat Toulon in the 2016 final at Camp Nou in Barcelona while the 2024 final is set to be staged in Marseille.
“We’re contractually obliged to stage [the final] at Twickenham but I think we need to have an open mind going forward in the next PGA,” he said. “Should we be doing things like neutral semi-finals? Again, trying to [replicate] these bigger moments that certainly exist in other countries.
“I think we can do it and it’s not necessarily a case of, ‘everything is at Twickenham’. I think there’s a national footprint here and you need to think about the Brightons and the Leeds and various other areas. We just need to work out where the demand is and how quickly you can build it.”
Only 10,000 spectators were permitted to attend last season’s thrilling final between Harlequins and Exeter due to Covid restrictions but Twickenham is expected to be close to its 82,000 capacity on Saturday. The final will also be broadcast on terrestrial TV for the first time in its history following a landmark deal with ITV and Massie-Taylor believes the annual fixture can establish itself in the nation’s sporting landscape.
“The goal for the final is to try and make a national sporting moment, and I genuinely believe we can do it,” he said. “There are a few things in the calendar where we have that established moment, the Grand National and Wimbledon, and we know there’s 10 million rugby fans knocking around, plus all the genuine sports fans who get attracted to big moments. You’ve got 10 million [rugby] fans in the UK, 9 million are England fans and pretty much all of those will watch a game on ITV. Now it’s a pretty broad demographic of people.
“It’s about trying to create that national sporting moment. And so we talk about the Super Bowl, but what’s our version of it and how do we make it famous? So that’s the goal. And so we think we’ve got a big opportunity to make a big step on 18 June.”
Meanwhile, the former England second-row George Kruis has been named to start for the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday in his swansong appearance. Kruis will line up next to Australia’s Will Skelton in a side featuring no fewer than 10 French players and led by Les Bleus’ head coach Fabien Galthié. Charles Ollivon captains the side from No 8 with established France players Damian Penaud, Dylan Cretin and Virimi Vakatawa also selected. Fiji’s Levani Botia and South Africa’s Trevor Nyakane will also line up against an England XV.