Organisers fear half empty Twickenham for Champions Cup final
Clermont Auvergne could face Toulon in the showpiece event in front of 40,000 empty seats
Champions Cup organisers are fearful Twickenham could be half empty for the final between Clermont and Toulon. Photograph: Getty
Organisers fear there may be 40,000 empty seats when Clermont Auvergne and Toulon contest the European Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday week. The 82,000-capacity stadium is set to be half empty for the first final since the old Heineken Cup was mothballed last year.
Despite the presence of two French clubs, it is understood no more than 8,000 supporters are planning to travel to London for the final. The defending champions, Toulon, have already returned 40% of their ticket allocation and Clermont have been allocated only 5,000 tickets. To date barely 30,000 tickets have been sold for the showpiece fixture.
The likely upshot is the smallest crowd for a European final since Toulouse beat Perpignan in front of 28,600 spectators in Dublin in 2003. Over the intervening 12 years the majority of finals have been sellouts, with 81,744 watching Leinster beat Ulster at Twickenham three years ago.
This time the newly formed tournament organisers, European Professional Club Rugby, are expecting the lowest attendance at a major Twickenham final in the professional era. There are plans to offer a number of cut-price deals to clubs and schools while numerous hospitality tickets have also been allocated but individual seats remain available for £38.
Had Saracens and Leinster not lost in the semi-finals the situation would have been less acute but moving the final to the start of May, a mere 13 days after the competing sides were confirmed, has been another contributory factor.
The French clubs insisted on shifting the date from the end of May because they did not want to disrupt the latter stages of their Top 14 championship and Premiership Rugby were happy to accommodate their wishes.
It was also not impossible to predict that Clermont and Toulon, who are now going for a hat-trick of European titles, might be leading contenders to make the final.
The two heavyweights could face each other three times in six weeks as they are scheduled to meet in the Top 14 next month and are favourites to contest the French championship final in Paris on 13 June.
The easiest solution – to stage the final in France – may well come to pass next year, with French club officials having already lodged a bid to host the 2016 final in Marseille.
Toulon are hoping the presence of their English flanker Steffon Armitage will generate some local support at Twickenham. “We’ve got Steffon Armitage, so hopefully we can really get the English to rally behind us,” said Ali Williams, Toulon’s former All Black forward. “Hopefully a few of our English supporters can come along and put red and black on.”
Armitage’s older brother Delon looks likely to miss the final after reportedly fracturing a bone in his hand against Leinster on Sunday.