England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) is set to organise national team Test matches at venues in Newcastle or Manchester as part of plans to increase interest in the sport across the country.
England currently plays its Test matches at Twickenham Stadium in London, but various reports have claimed that the team will travel to other parts of the country from next year.
According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, a match against either Ireland or Wales will be held in the northern cities of Newcastle or Manchester next year, with the RFU also said to be keen on hosting annual Test matches outside of London from 2020 onwards.
The last high-profile, non-World Cup Test match to be held outside of London was a game against New Zealand at Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium in 1997.
Newcastle has its own Premiership team, with Sale in Greater Manchester also home to a club.
RFU chief executive Steve Brown said, according to the Telegraph: “Clearly there’s a high demand for games at Twickenham but we need to get the balance right. There’s a good chance we’ll start to see us playing in different parts of the country.
“It isn’t just Manchester, it could be other parts of the country. There are some real heartlands in the northeast and the northwest. There’s competition with football and rugby league at the community level but there’s great (rugby) history there. Clubs like Sale and Newcastle have great connections with the community. The game needs to go to a different part of the country.”
He added: “It doesn’t have to be a football stadium but we had 55,000 for Uruguay in the World Cup. That’s the scale that we’ll be looking at. Some of the cities, particularly Manchester, are very interested in having more rugby union. Newcastle are very keen as well.
“The other thing is to make it a regular feature. We don’t want it to just be a one off and that’s the challenge. An autumn Test could be an option. If we were to take a call to reduce our income, that’s less money to put back into the game. It’s a balancing act. We have to look at having that game as an investment to increase interest and participation.”
Next year’s match against Ireland or Wales would serve as a warm-up fixture ahead of the World Cup in Japan.