All roads lead to Ulster for the Pro12 final
Organisers are confident that Ravenhill final will sell out even without Irish involvement
Lord Mayor of Belfast Nichola Mallon and Pro12 chief executive John Feehan. Feehan said “I am certain that we will sell it out even if there is no Irish team in the final, although, frankly I’d be quite surprised if there wasn’t”. Photograph: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
they are unconcerned about the prospect of two non-Irish teams taking part in the league’s Grand Final at Ravenhill.
It follows the European Champions Cup that has taken the fixed date and venue approach with this year’s final to be held in Twickenham on May 2nd despite the chance of two French teams going through.
But Pro12 tradition shows the likelihood is that at least one Irish team will be in the Ulster final. Just one final since the 2001-02 season has been without an Irish presence.
In 2006-07, Cardiff Blues were beaten by Ospreys, who have won the title four times. All of the other finals have involved at least one of the Irish provinces.
One thing Pro12 has conceded in their decision to have the date and venue established is that there is no possibility of a sell-out crowd at a bigger venue if both finalists are Irish.
“Up to recently we had two weeks notice. But this year we had one week to decide where it was going to be. The semi-finals are played on a Saturday (weekend of May 22nd-24th) and the final is scheduled for the following Saturday (May 30th). It’s the right move for us to plan it this way so everyone knows. It’s a positive move for us.”
In past years the highest seed was given home advantage. So if the number one seeded team made it through to the final, it would be played at their home venue.
2003 Heineken Cup
Traditionally the highest attendances in the Pro12 have been between Leinster and Munster in the non-knock-out phase. Last March 51,700 watched a round 18 match at Aviva Stadium.
“No we are not worried about it at all,” added Feehan. “I mean no one can plan anything that way. We would have been down to one week. We have been looking at it for a while. I am certain that we will sell it out even if there is no Irish team in the final, although, frankly I’d be quite surprised if there wasn’t.
“We have 12 clubs and it’s their final and I have no doubt at all that there will be a full house. I’m not the least bit worried that it won’t be hopping on the day.”
The tender went out to clubs around Christmas time and came down to a shortlist of two, Ulster and Glasgow. Several clubs were unable to become involved as their stadiums were booked for other events or they don’t own them. Ospreys do not own Liberty Stadium and were not contenders, a point of contention on social media. Ospreys are possible finalists as are Ulster.
With the backing of the city, Belfast won the tender and are expected to make it a festival of rugby as much as the showcase match of the season. It’s also an incentive for the home club to make it to the last two.
“There was a lot of interest but one or two of the venues had pre-existing events on already,” added Feehan. “So Thomond Park had the Babas etc. So it was not possible to get the full vendors involved. We are delighted with the choice as it is not just one big game of rugby but the city have really bought into it too.”