Gerry Thornley: Pro12 missed sitter by not having Dublin final

Leinster-Connacht game should be played in the Aviva Stadium and not in Edinburgh

The Guinness Pro12 can dress it up any way it likes but whatever about deciding on a "neutral" venue at the start of the season, the choice of Murrayfield and Edinburgh next Saturday was seriously flawed. The presence of Leinster and Connacht in the final only compounds that error.

For starters, the dates of the Edinburgh Marathon and the Champions League final were already cast in stone. Clashing with the marathon ensured hotel rooms were at a premium and, needless to say, hoteliers bumped up their prices.

The marathon, which is actually a festival including a half-marathon, is held over the Sunday and bank holiday Monday and attracted more than 25,000 runners last year. It is already known for the shameless price-hiking of their hotels.

There is never a bountiful supply of flights from Ireland to Edinburgh at the best of times and entering the summer season has put a premium on the number of flights which Aer Lingus and Ryanair can provide. This has been compounded by Atlético and Real Madrid contesting the Champions League final in the San Siro in Milan. With every self-respecting Madrileño keen to be in attendance, there is hardly a spare charter flight to be hired.


One has some sympathy for the tournament organisers in that the redrawn European map – at the behest of the Anglo-French axis in order to facilitate the French clubs’ desire to compress the European Champions Cup in preference for their own championship having a longer, uninterrupted finale – meant the Pro12 semi-finals were put back to a week before the final.

Under pressure

Previously, with the Heineken Cup final held on the third Saturday in May, the European decider was scheduled in between the league semi-finals and final. This gave the organisers two weeks rather than one to plan for the final.

No doubt they were also under pressure from television and sponsors to nominate a neutral venue in advance, which are important considerations.

The Pro12 committee might also argue that Twickenham and Stade de France are the nominated venues for the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 finals, but the difference is that they are the long established primary rugby venues in those two countries and that both their leagues are national championships. Two teams from those countries are guaranteed to reach the final. It is not comparing like with like.

Indeed, if the Pro12 wanted to emulate those leagues and their grand finales, they would have been better served having a contingency plan in place. This would, and should, be dependent upon all four unions or federations making their primary venues available at a week’s notice. Given only Murrayfield was submitted as a potential venue, maybe the IRFU missed a trick by not putting the Aviva forward as a possibility last summer.

Failing all of that, they should have stayed with the original policy of the highest-ranked finalist hosting the final or gambled on the Aviva and Dublin.

Albeit at two weeks’ notice, the RDS (four times) and Thomond Park have been filled to capacity for all of the finals from 2010 to 2014.

To a degree, the Pro12 was fortunate that Ulster made the semi-finals last year and that so many of their supporters thus believed they could reach the final.

Unsurprisingly, Edinburgh were not in contention for the playoffs, and even when their team is involved, the city’s rugby supporters are not inclined to come out in force. In their wisdom, the Pro12 committee chose a venue where the home team’s support over 11 league games didn’t even reach the stadium’s 67,800 capacity, and extract the supposed 23,642 attendance for the Glasgow derby, not one attendance for their other 10 games reached 5,000.

And if the organisers were not willing to afford themselves an extra week to avoid clashing with the Edinburgh Marathon by putting the decider back a week to Saturday, June 4th (Joe Schmidt wouldn't have liked that), then they should have chosen the Aviva Stadium and Dublin.

After all, it didn’t require a soothsayer to see that there just might be an Irish team in the final. That has been the case with all of the eight previous finals, and this will be the fourth all-Irish final if one includes the inaugural decider of 2001. By contrast, Edinburgh have never even reached the semi-finals and Glasgow have only reached the last two finals.

This final also comes after two sell-outs for semi-finals at Irish grounds, which on aggregate surpassed the Premiership semi-final attendances. Even the bully boys from the Anglo- French club axis might agree that the Irish fans have been missed from Europe’s top table.

Great inconvenience

Despite an over-long season and perhaps helped by the lack of an Irish presence in the Champions Cup knockout stages as well as the novelty value of the Connacht story, the Irish teams and supporters have saved the tournament.

It remains to be seen how many of the 30,000-plus tickets already sold for Saturday’s final will be utilised. Perhaps like Ulster’s invasion of Lansdowne Road in 1999, the birth of the Red Army in Bordeaux and Twickenham in 2006 or Leinster’s Blue Army at Murrayfield in 2009, this will be a birth of sorts for Connacht’s Green Army. By boat, planes or automobiles, they’ll get there.

Ultimately though, not alone did they greatly inconvenience fans and at considerably more expense, but by not having the final in the Aviva the Pro12 missed a trick.