LONDON Wasps and Harlequins will break new ground on 30 January when their LV Cup match will be played in Abu Dhabi. With both clubs missing their key internationals as the RBS 6 Nations begins the weekend after the match, and England A have a match on that day, the game will be played under floodlights in a specially-constructed stadium that will hold around 5,000 spectators, according to The National at the Emirates Palace Hotel.
“As it is a home fixture for Wasps, they were the real driving force behind the match in Abu Dhabi,” a spokesperson for Harlequins told the newspsper. “Although we helped with the planning, we were asked to play the match there and were delighted to accept.”
Bristol played London Wasps in New Orleans a few seasons ago, in a pre-season friendly, but this is the first time two English clubs have played a competitive match outside of the country.
The National continues: “The game had to be sanctioned by the International Rugby Board because the newly created United Arab Emirates Rugby Association (UAERA), which took over from the Arabian Gulf RFU after it was disbanded at the end of 2010, is not a full member. The West Asian representative of the IRB had to obtain a letter of no objection from the UAERA and that has been approved. The game has also been sanctioned by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.”
The concept of moving domestic rugby fixtures to bigger venues in the UK, as seen with Wasps’ St George’s Day Game, Harlequins’ Big Game and other fixtures played at Wembley, has shown great success in promoting the sport and engaging wider audiences. Eager to push the boundaries Wasps, in partnership with Harlequins and the LV= Cup tournament, take the first steps to promote rugby to a new overseas market by playing a competitive game abroad.
The game will be played under flood-lights in the grounds of the luxurious Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, managed by Kempinski Hotels, with a specially constructed stadium allowing up to 5,000 spectators to enjoy the fixture. The Emirates Palace will also host both teams and the match officials.
Sky Sports will broadcast this domestic rugby world-first live from Abu Dhabi, showcasing this unique setting, whilst ensuring supporters across the UK and Ireland can enjoy all the action. As a home fixture for Wasps, Season Ticket Holders will be provided with a match ticket for this game and the club is currently working with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to provide supporter travel packages for those who wish to travel. Season Ticket Holders, and supporters who have already purchased tickets, that do not travel will be offered a refund for the pro-rated value of this match and will also be invited to attend an exclusive open day with the squad at Adams Park later in the season.
On the announcement Wasps Owner Steve Hayes said, “We are truly delighted to be the first club to take a competitive game of rugby overseas. It reiterates our commitment to the game and also to building the long term future of London Wasps. The excitement already shown by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Etihad Airways, Emirates Place and the United Arab Emirates Rugby Association in staging this game, highlights the interest in our domestic rugby and opens up great opportunities to promote London Wasps, Harlequins, the LV= Cup and rugby on a much wider scale.
“As a club we are always looking at ways to be innovative, but moving this game has only been possible through the support and backing of the RFU, Premiership Rugby, IRB, LV=, Sky Sports and Harlequins. To see such positive endorsement really highlights the strength of this concept and I thank everyone for making this a realisation. Great thanks also go to Emirates Palace, Etihad Airways and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.
“Whilst we understand that many supporters will not be able to travel to the game, Wasps’ fans have always vocalised their desire for the club to grow and strengthen its brand and it is unique opportunities like this that can really propel Wasps into new realms. With Sky Sports behind this venture, our fans will be able to see this game from home soil and that was very important to us because we know there will be some disappointment in not playing this game at Adams Park. We hope that everyone in black and gold gets behind this because we, along with all parties invested in this game, believe there is a real positive for Wasps and for rugby in this.”
Wasps’ Board Director Lawrence Dallaglio added, “To be the first club to take a competitive game of rugby overseas really reflects Wasps desire to be innovative and try new things. We want to ensure that Wasps has a long term future and it is steps like this that strengthen the club and develop a global brand. We know that there will be some disappointment for those fans that cannot travel, but we know our supporters want long term success and stability and one-off opportunities like these can only help build our profile, appeal and reach. For the players this is a unique and hugely exciting experience and one which we are all really excited by. The LV=Cup has a strong role in the development of our young aspiring talent and what a fantastic experience for any player to list as part of their playing career.”
The Rugby Football Union’s Tournaments and Competitions Director, Terry Burwell, commented, “We are delighted to be working with LV=, London Wasps, Harlequins and the United Arab Emirates Rugby Association on this venture, which is the first of its kind in the competition’s history. Taking the game to Abu Dhabi is a great opportunity to strengthen the sport’s presence outside of the eight foundation unions. The LV= Cup is the ideal competition to showcase rugby union on the wider stage, offering new spectators the chance to witness the exciting young talent we have to offer in England.“
David Smith from tournament sponsors LV= added, “We are delighted that an LV= Cup game will be played in Abu Dhabi and we hope this move will continue to raise the profile of the tournament.”
Sentiments echoed by Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby, Mark McCafferty, “We have been fully supportive of the decision to move the London Wasps v Harlequins LV= Cup match overseas. Premiership Rugby welcomes innovation by our clubs that will help achieve their sporting and business objectives and build our international profile.”
Highlighting the unity and excitement surrounding this game, Harlequins Chief Executive Mark Evans added, “Having had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Etihad Airways, our Main Sponsor for the last four years, we are delighted to have this opportunity to play a competitive game in the UAE. Anything which broadens the reach and awareness of club rugby within this region must be applauded and we are delighted to co-operate with Wasps in this innovative venture.”