The crowds flocking to Twickenham and Wembley for Bath v Leicester and Saracens v Harlequins will be cited as proof of the game’s growth but they mask concerns ranging from fixture congestion to financial uncertainty
Here is a quick quiz question: name the sport rivalling the Premier League and the Grand National for popularity in the UK this weekend? The answer is Premiership rugby union, with as many as 125,000 people set to attend games at Wembley and Twickenham. The “What time can you get here?” gags have gone the way of jockstraps, duckboards and half-time oranges.
These are not finals either, but regular league fixtures, albeit jazzed-up editions. While Bath and Saracens are hardly Manchester United and Arsenal, there is a hunger – or should that be a thirst? – for watching English club rugby union that did not exist 20 years ago. Premiership crowds have doubled since 2000 and live TV audiences are up 50% since 2010-11. As Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby’s chief executive, says: “The appetite is definitely there. I can’t see why, even if we only get most decisions right, it won’t keep increasing. It feels like there’s another phase of growth coming.”
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It could be incredibly positive for the game or wreck the whole model. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out
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