The British & Irish Lions have confirmed that a crowd of 16,500 will be able to watch the rugby union team’s warm-up match against Japan at BT Murrayfield Stadium, while Twickenham Stadium is gearing up to welcome 10,000 fans for the 2021 Challenge Cup and Champions Cup finals.
In what will be a record crowd for a rugby game held in the UK during COVID-19, the Scottish Government has granted approval for 25% capacity at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. The Lions last week confirmed that the pre-series Test match against Japan, announced back in October, would go ahead as planned on June 26.
The game is intended as a warm-up for the Lions before they head to South Africa to take on the reigning world champions. The British & Irish Lions and SA Rugby last week confirmed a revised schedule for the former’s forthcoming tour, with Emirates Airline Park losing its hosting rights to one Test and matches set to be played behind closed doors.
Murrayfield’s curtain-raiser to the tour will host the partial capacity crowd following consultation with the Scottish Government and the application of agreed social distancing criteria to ensure fans can attend safely. It will be the first time supporters will be able to attend the home of Scottish Rugby to watch an international match since March 2020.
“This is an important first step to bring fans back to BT Murrayfield Stadium and a return to normality,” said Scottish Rugby chief executive, Mark Dodson. “Through the positive working relationship, we have developed with both Scottish Government and key local partners we are confident we will offer a safe environment for every supporter and look forward to playing our part in hosting this unique sporting occasion and welcoming rugby fans back to Edinburgh.”
The Lions match announcement comes after it was recently decided that football’s Scottish Cup final between Hibernian and St Johnstone at Hampden Park on Saturday will now take place behind closed doors after the easing of restrictions in Glasgow was delayed by at least a week.
Last week, the Scottish Football Association was granted approval by UEFA to have fans in attendance for the match. It had previously been announced that there would be no fans at Hampden Park as the venue will have already been handed over to UEFA for Glasgow’s staging of Euro 2020 games, but approval was then granted for a maximum of 500 spectators to attend.
However, the match will go ahead without fans after all, with the Scottish Government announcing on Friday that Glasgow will remain in Level 3 of its lockdown tier due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Hampden Park is set to open at 25% capacity for its four Euro 2020 games, which will mean that around 12,000 fans will be in attendance.
Commenting on the Murrayfield decision, the Government’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, said: “As a flagship event of international significance, this match has been carefully considered by the Scottish Government.
“The stadium capacity has been agreed, following public health advice, in principle by Ministers but will be kept under review, with all partners continuing to monitor the status of the pandemic in the run up to the match to ensure fans can attend safely. This is the same process used to set the capacity for the Euros at Hampden and for other internationally significant events during the summer.”
Owing to the reduced capacity following the application of agreed social distancing measures within Murrayfield, a number of ticketholders will not be permitted to attend and will be refunded.
Twickenham ready for Champions, Challenge Cup finals
In other rugby news, fans will return to Twickenham for the first time since December as the London stadium hosts the 2021 European Challenge and Champions Cup finals tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday, respectively.
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) last month announced that Twickenham Stadium would become the new host of the games, with up to 10,000 fans set to be permitted.
The EPCR had been seeking a new host venue for its showpiece events after announcing that the games would not take place at Marseille’s Orange Vélodrome as originally planned. That decision was made following consultation with the relevant local authorities in France amid the ongoing COVID-19 situation in the country.
Spectators will be seated in the lower seating bowl and in the East middle tier at Twickenham in groups up to a maximum of six from a single household or support bubble.
To comply with NHS Test and Trace and to ensure safety throughout, every person attending either match will be required to have their own mobile ticket on their own device, via the Twickenham Stadium app. The only exceptions are for accompanied minors, or for those people with a disability attending the match with a companion.
An aggregate of 500 National Health Service (NHS) staff members have snapped up tickets for the two matches offered by EPCR, in partnership with tournament sponsor Heineken. The gesture recognises the dedication and bravery of health workers in battling against the pandemic, acknowledging that without their work playing in front of 10,000 fans would not be possible.
Rugby Football Union CEO and EPCR board member, Bill Sweeney, said: “Having not had any fans at Twickenham Stadium since the Autumn Nations Cup final last December, we’re delighted to be able to welcome back up to 10,000 on Friday and again on Saturday for what should be two exciting EPCR finals. The fans really do make the game and we hope everyone is looking forward to attending live rugby again at Twickenham.
“The RFU and EPCR teams have been working extremely hard since it was announced Twickenham Stadium would host these matches to get everything ready for the return of fans. I’d like to thank everyone for all their efforts to put in place various measures to ensure the safety and well-being of all those attending each match.”
Image: British & Irish Lions