Historic date for Sharks and Crusaders in Twickenham

2011-03-16 00:00

THE log-leading Sharks and seven-time champions Crusaders will make history when they play their Super Rugby game at Twickenham in London on Sunday, March 27.

The fixture, which will be the first in Super Rugby to be played at a neutral venue, was confirmed by Sharks, Crusaders and England rugby officials yesterday.

The Crusaders, seeking a venue for this high-profile clash on March 26 after their home ground in Christchurch was damaged in the February 22 earthquake, were initially turned down by the England union (RFU) because it clashed with near-neighbours Harlequins’ home game against Gloucester.

But the parties have now all agreed to the game being played a day later with a 5 pm kick-off (SA time) at the massive 80 000-seater Twickenham.

Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl said he is delighted that agreement had been reached.

“This is about so much more than just competitive rugby. It is critical for us to unite around our New Zealand counterparts. We urge all South Africans and Sharks supporters in London to join us at Twickenham for the match.”

A RFU spokesman also welcomed the historic move.

“It is fantastic news. Having some of the southern hemisphere’s best players on display at Twickenham will be a treat for all English-based fans of the Super 15.”

Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said yesterday that the Sharks have been “really supportive” of the proposal, and are keen to help Christchurch and the Crusaders after the devastating earthquake.

The Crusaders have played two Super Rugby games — thumping first the Waratahs 33-18 and then the Brumbies 52-10 — after points were shared from their cancelled second-round match against the Hurricanes. But their home games have been played at the 10 000-seat Trafalgar Park in Nelson and they have suffered financially.

The second-placed Crusaders travel to Dunedin for a fifth-round clash with New Zealand conference leaders the Highlanders on Saturday and will then trek to London.

The Sharks will have a day’s start as they play the Chiefs on Friday, but their travel plans have still to be finalised. The initial plan was for them to fly directly from Auckland to London, but there has since been a suggestion that they return home to Durban and fly to England later in the week.

The move should benefit the Sharks, allowing them to play the powerful Crusaders at a neutral venue while helping in their preparations for their home game against the Stormers on Saturday, April 2.

Van Zyl told The Witness that the Sharks will fly back to South Africa immediately after the Twickenham game on the Sunday night and obviously jet lag will be less of a problem than if they had trekked from Auckland.

Sanzar CEO Greg Peters said his organisation also welcomes the move. “It required an agile and responsive approach, considering the fact that the Crusaders have been left without a home venue. This is a unique set of circumstances and should be viewed as a one-off rather than a new trend of moving Super Rugby matches outside of their usual territories.”

Tickets (£50, £40 and £30) will be on sale via Ticketmaster. The British Red Cross are to incorporate the match into a weekend of fundraising and £5 from every ticket will go towards the earthquake relief fund.

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