London Irish has reached an agreement with English Premiership rugby union rival Harlequins through which it will play out the remainder of the suspended 2019-20 season at the latter’s stadium, The Stoop.
The agreement, which Harlequins described as an “act of friendship within the rugby community”, comes with COVID-19 having dealt Irish multiple challenges from a stadium perspective. In December 2018, it was announced that Irish would return to the English capital in 2020 following the completion of a deal with Championship football club Brentford to move to its new stadium.
Irish played at Madejski Stadium, home of Brentford’s fellow Championship team Reading, for the past two decades, but its tenancy expired during Premiership Rugby’s COVID-19 hiatus. Brentford Community Stadium is currently nearing completion and Irish has agreed a lease deal to move in as the secondary tenant from the 2020-21 season. The club had held an agreement to play at Madejski Stadium through to 2025-26, but a break clause was exercised to leave this deal early.
Irish said it assessed a number of potential venues for the Premiership restart, currently scheduled for the weekend of August 14-16. Work on Brentford Community Stadium was held up due to the pandemic, but it is in its final stages and Irish said it is looking forward to beginning its 2020-21 campaign there.
Under the terms of its deal with Harlequins, Irish’s Round 17 fixture against Saracens will now be played on August 31, a bank holiday, to avoid a clash with Harlequins’ home game against Northampton Saints on the Sunday. The remaining fixtures also include a meeting between the two clubs, Irish as the ‘home team’, in Round 19.
London Irish CEO Brian Facer said: “Although we may be fierce competitors with Harlequins on the field, even rivals can support each other during extraordinary circumstances such as these, and I would like to thank the Quins board, and in particular their chief executive Laurie Dalrymple and his team, for their positivity in accommodating our matches.”
Dalrymple added: “We are delighted to support our soon to be returning neighbours to be able to complete the 2019-20 Premiership season. The club is doing everything within its power to help get the sport back on its feet following the substantial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. With that in mind, Harlequins have come to an agreement that London Irish will play their remaining five home games in Twickenham, one of which comes against Harlequins.”