So it has been confirmed that this year’s Guinness Pro12 final is to be the biggest yet, as it passed the 26,100 mark, set by Munster at Thomond Park when they defeated Leinster 19-9 in the 2011 Pro12 Final. We now have the confirmed quarter finals, table toppers Leinster take on the fourth place and in-form Ulster at the RDS, looking for vengeance of their 30-6 loss to the Ulstermen in Round twenty one. Out in the west Connacht are set for their first ever home semi-final, against reigning Champions, Glasgow Warriors. Connacht played well to end the Warriors nine match winning streak to secure a home semi-final, but will face a new challenge as an experienced Glasgow side will be hoping to over turn the result. Last time around the Warriors were down to fourteen men when Sila Puafisi was awarded a red card on the forty-ninth minute. However, no away team has ever won a semi-final away from home, making this a really interesting battle.
With history to be made in a number of different ways, why has interest been so big in this years final? There are a few reasons and it’s great to see interest and support in the league growing.
The first big advantage is having a destination final and doing it in a stadium deserving of the show piece event. I’m not going to say that Ulster’s Kingspan stadium last year wasn’t a great location; Belfast is a brilliant city for travelling fans to visit and the Ulster crowd certainly know how to put on a show. With their stadium redeveloped, it really is a top class facility. However, travelling to a final in an 18,000 seat stadium just doesn’t quite appeal so much. It gives an impression of mediocrity and that, in essence, the final isn’t really that big of a deal.
The difference with Edinburgh? The first thing is that it is the first Pro12 final to be held outside of Ireland, which perhaps attracts more fans from Wales, of course Scotland and English fans who support Pro12 sides, too. With tickets starting at a very reasonable £20, it is an attractive day out for any rugby fan, in the same way the £10 tickets were for Judgement Day IV.
As mentioned above, having a 66,000 stadium also makes it feel a bit more legitimate, a bit more real. It gives an expectation, it shows that this is a final, this is important and for that reason, it shall be played on the big stage. Will the final be a sell-out? I don’t know exactly how sales are going, but I would expect not. Murrayfield is a big old place and with over 26,000 tickets sold, there’s still a way to go if Pro12 are to fill it. That said, never say never. With this being such an exciting climax for the Pro12, who knows?
The following reason for increased interest has to be the ferocity of the closing stages of this years competition. Coming into the final round Connacht and Glasgow Warriors had secured play off spots, Leinster needed a solitary point to make the semi’s and Ulster and Scarlets were both still in the running too. As we have seen for so many years in Europe, the Irish travel well. Counter in the fact that Connacht have been doing well, there will have been extra interest from the west and of course, those supporting the under dog. Top that off with the potential for Glasgow Warriors to lift a second consecutive Pro12 trophy and do so in the home of Scottish Rugby and it’s not hard to imagine why there has been heightened interest this time around.
The final two things to mention are the sponsor and the logistics of a destination final. As mentioned in my recent article about Judgement Day IV, Guinness is a big name and with their colours being black and gold as opposed to the orange and blue of RaboDirect, the final is just branded that bit better. Being the second year into a TV deal with Sky Sports will also no doubt have widened interest in the league.
As a destination final, it also makes it easier for people to arrange going. Of course, if for example the final was two Irish sides and it’s held in Scotland, this isn’t the best for the fans of those teams. However, inevitably one side always has to travel. Providing cheap tickets for months in advance means that those who got their ducks in a row will have bought their tickets, flights and accommodation months ago, at a better price. Under the old system, there was a very short turn around between the announcing the location of the final and the final itself, making it much more difficult and expensive to travel to the event. As a fan having to travel back from Barcelona and having a friend travel up from Bristol, this has made the world of difference for us.
So now we go onto the semi-finals in the next few weeks, with the European Champions Cup final in Lyon to keep us entertained in the mean time. You can check out the highlights of last year’s Pro12 final in Belfast last year, here.
If you’re yet to buy your tickets, I would recommend buying soon; BT Murrayfield has just opened some new blocks as the lower tiers begin to fill up. Tickets available, here.
As usual, let me know your thought in the comments or on Twitter, and if you fancy a pint at the game, let me know! (Donations are welcomed and encouraged, I don’t get paid for writing this pure gold..)
The Scribbler, 8th May, 2016