Saracens kick off a new era with first league game at Allianz Park
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Premiership giants Saracens will play their first league match at Allianz Park on Saturday as they host Exeter Chiefs at their new home in north London.
This weekend’s game at Saracens’ new £24million ground, with its artificial pitch, will be the first of five league showdowns at Barnet Copthall this season – and it will be played in front of a full house after all 10,000 seats were sold.
The men in black boast a star-studded line-up including England internationals Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Alex Goode and Brad Barritt – when they are not away with the national squad -– and they currently lie third in the table, just three points adrift of leaders Leicester, while also eyeing European glory.
Saracens qualified for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup last month, ending their 16-year stay at Watford FC’s Vicarage Road in terrific style by thumping Edinburgh 40-7 to earn a home draw in the last eight.
The quarter-final will take place on April 6, and Saracens initially considered hosting the tie at Allianz Park, which has 3,000 permanent seats that can be increased to 10,000 by adding temporary stands.
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However, European regulations state that the grounds used for cup quarter-finals must have a capacity of 15,000.
That is possible at Allianz Park, and Saracens’ finance director Jon Hall said: “We can easily add seats to the demountable stands to increase capacity for one game by taking the roofs off.”
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However, that would require an extension to the licence and, following consultations with the Borough of Barnet and local residents, the club have decided to hold the clash against Ulster at Twickenham instead.
Saracens’ return to their original home in north London, and the use of an artificial pitch has already generated plenty of interest – and experienced rugby officials believe the club’s arrival could lead to advances in the game on the local and national stage.
Geoff Boxer is the former chairman of the Middlesex Rugby Development Partnership, and the long-serving director of rugby at UCS Old Boys RFC.
He told Ham&High Sport: “Saracens’ move to Allianz Park is clearly an exciting development for the area and, given the club’s global brand, we expect it to generate major benefits.
“There is no doubt that many who come to watch the Saracens games will get caught up in the wave of enthusiasm for rugby union that will hit the area. Many of those local clubs have mini and youth sections and they would welcome these new players to the game.
“In that case Middlesex Rugby is well placed to support them with a range of resources – as of course are all the local clubs such as ourselves.
“The county has a vision in which it sees young people being newly attracted to rugby as the game’s future players, coaches, referees, administrators and volunteers. Saracens’ move to a purpose-built stadium in Hendon can only be good for the game.”
Saracens already have a two-day skills clinic for six to 16-year-olds scheduled for February 18 and 19 and last month they hosted a Daily Mail Vase schools’ match.
Meanwhile, Saracens have become the first rugby union club in the world to play on a wholly artificial pitch.
“It will be something else new within the game and new within the Aviva Premiership, which is brilliant for the league and brilliant for Saracens as a club,” said Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty.
“If it does bring a new angle to the way that the game is played, in terms of the speed and safety and so forth, that’s great as well and when other clubs see that then I’m sure one or two of them will think along the same sort of lines.”
Fixtures at Allianz Park:
Saracens v Exeter Chieftains - Feb 16 Saracens v London Welsh - March 3 Saracens v Harlequins - March 24 Saracens v Worcester - April 14 Saracens v Bath - May 4