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Champions Cup regrets? If only the final had stayed in the San Siro

The EPCR are expecting 50,000 people to attend the supposed biggest game in European rugby. More people were in the Millennium stadium to watch the Pro12 this weekend.

IF YOU LOOK back on the tournament as a whole, the inaugural Champions Cup has been pretty successful.

By successful, of course we mean relatively seamless from the outside, almost indistinguishable from the successful tournament it replaced.

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Semi-Final - Saracens v Toulon - Twickenham Stadium

The name was altered, the title sponsor has become a major partner, the division of wealth has changed and there are fewer teams. Yet here we are with the final in view and nobody has felt a revolution. The reigning champs are back to defend their crown and even the final pairing is a match-up we’ve watched in the very recent past.

The only problem with this cosy familiarity brought over from the Heineken era is the well worn venue for the Champions Cup’s showpiece finale.

In its previous guise, the ERC had set up something great. A final that would at last give a bit more meaning to the word ‘European’ in a competition that has been won by teams from just three countries. The plan was to take it to the sixth nation.

ITALY NEW ZEALAND RUGBY Source: AP/Press Association Images

All the way back in 2012, the Italian Federation were promised a European final. But that dream dream was killed off with the Heineken Cup. Though unlike the competition, Italy’s day in the sun did not live on like Rory B Bellows as if nothing ever happened.

The San Siro has a limited track record for hosting rugby. Yet while it’s impossible to predict a repeat of the sell-out crowd that watched the All Blacks beat Italy in 2009, for most it would certainly hold a greater allure than a fifth final in west London.

The scheduled final in the Milan venue could have been magical. The sheer novelty factor of such a massive game in Italy would have attracted a swathe of early purchases from hopefuls, neutrals and curious locals alike.

Instead, we’re staring down the barrel of seeing Europe’s two best teams – used to frantic, fervent atmospheres on their own turf –  playing in an echo chamber with 30,000 empty green seats.

The projected 50,000 attendance (lower than the number of people who showed up to watch a double header of Pro12 rugby in the Millennium Stadium on Saturday), the EPCR stress, “is consistent with the attendances at the last two European finals involving two French teams outside of France.”

However, those finals were in Dublin, Edinburgh and Twickenham. From Toulon, it takes longer to drive to Paris than it takes to road-trip your way to Milan. From Clermont the Italian city is a six-hour spin.

Rugby Union - 2015 RBS Six Nations - England v Italy - Twickenham Source: David Davies

With only 10,000 partisan fans expected to cross the channel this weekend, organisers were forced in to a ticket fire sale of sorts this week, culminating in the coding disaster that allowed fans to buy free tickets online.

This undoubtedly caused a short-term spike in sales as opportunists picked up for free what others had shelled out £80, but this week’s fiasco has the potential to devalue tickets for years to come as supporters get a lose their sense of urgency to snap them up before the markdown comes.

On the field, the Champions Cup has been a match of its predecessor. Off it, organisers must be daydreaming of an alternate ending where they swish a glass of Barolo in salute at full house in Milan.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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