#360view: Ticketing fiasco is blighting European Champions Cup final

Martyn Thomas 11:15 30/04/2015
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  • Go out on a high: Ali Williams (c) and his Toulon team-mates aim for a third title.

    Saturday’s European Champions Cup final at Twickenham has all the hallmarks of a classic. Toulon, the continent’s form side this decade, go in search of a historic hat-trick of titles against a Clermont side still smarting from defeat at their hands in the 2013 showpiece in Dublin.

    Games between the sides over the past two seasons have averaged three tries, while their star-studded squads – including the likes of Steffon Armitage, Matt Giteau and Wesley Fofana – ensure pre-World Cup sub-plots abound.
    Toulon, moreover, will wave goodbye to three special players as Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams and Carl Hayman bid farewell to European club rugby.

    In short, this is a game that no rugby union fan should want to miss, and it is frustrating that so few people will actually be there to watch it. Instead of the potentially ferocious action on the pitch, this week’s headlines have invariably focused on poor scheduling and the resulting ticketing fiasco.

    Having agreed to move the final to the beginning of May – just two weeks after the semi-finals – apparently at the behest of Top 14 clubs, it’s fair to assume that an all-French clash was the last thing organisers wanted.

    As expected a low take-up of tickets from within France has followed, leaving European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) in an awkward position. Their handling of the situation has been far from perfect, however, with a glitch in a 2-for-1 ticket scheme involving the Aviva Premiership final temporarily offering fans free tickets.

    With seats starting at £69.12 (Dh392.61) that could have proved a costly mistake. Despite the EPCR’s best efforts, a raft of tickets are still available and with Twickenham’s top tier remaining closed, viewers watching on TV will be treated to a sea of green seats.

    That is not how organisers wanted to end a largely encouraging debut European Champions Cup campaign and is certainly no way to send Botha, Williams and Hayman into retirement.

    We should be talking about how that triumvirate of greats could help inspire Toulon to an unprecedented third successive European Cup. Ultimately, though, EPCR only have themselves to blame. They knew a Gallic match-up was likely well before April 19, and should have marketed tickets to neutral supporters better and sooner.

    Harlequins, at Twickenham, and Saracens, at Wembley, have both drawn crowds in excess of 80,000 this season for games that had far less at stake.

    Of course this situation would have been less acute had Saracens or Leinster qualified and it is pleasing that next year’s final has already been pushed back to mid-May.

    What is in no doubt, is that this weekend’s contest will be enthralling.


    Bitter taste: Saracens Neil de Kock (c).

    If proved true, it is deeply concerning that those in control of Premiership Rugby would put an investigation into foul play by two of its clubs to one side to preserve its own image.

    A report in The Times newspaper, published in the UK on Wednesday, has alleged that all-bar two top-flight chairman voted in favour of delaying action against Saracens and another club concerning breaches of the salary cap.

    Punishment for such an offence can be as severe as a 40-point deduction for breaches in excess of £250,000 (Dh1.42 million) of the current £5m cap.

    Delaying the investigation until the summer, and after negotiations between Premiership Rugby and the RFU have concluded, could have a huge say in where this season’s biggest domestic prize ends up. The race for the Premiership play-off places could not be tighter heading into the final two rounds, with Saracens only three points clear of fifth-placed Exeter, in third.

    Sarries welcome the Chiefs to Allianz Park on May 10, meaning any points deduction would have proved costly to the north London club in their chase for silverware.

    If the 2011 champions do end up in the top four, there is no doubt they possess the quality to go on and lift the title.

    If they were to do so and then suffer at the hands of a postponed investigation, it would leave an extremely bitter taste.