Spectacular setting: Saracens' plans to host a match at Cape Town Stadium have been rejected

by Ben Coles

EDINBURGH RUGBY have rejected a proposal to play their away Heineken Cup match against Saracens at Cape Town Stadium in South Africa, describing the concept as “simply not an option that we could seriously consider.”

The Scottish side reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup last year for the first time, the best finish in the competition by a Scottish side ever, losing out to Ulster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Managing director Craig Docherty told The Daily Telegraph:

“As a club, our commitment is to our fans and other key stakeholders, such as sponsors, and fundamentally our goal is to qualify from what is a very challenging Heineken Cup pool.

“Following Edinburgh Rugby to South Africa is simply not an option for the vast majority whose support was so crucial to our journey to last season’s semi-final. I’m sure they will be desperate to support us in what could be a critical pool game.

“The case made by Saracens was not commercially compelling and, from a performance perspective, would have had a detrimental effect on our preparation for and recovery from this match.

“Edinburgh Rugby are open to new and innovative ideas but the prospect of playing our final pool game in the southern hemisphere was simply not an option that we could seriously consider from a number of different perspectives.”

Saracens had offered to pay for Edinburgh’s flights to and from Cape Town, along with their accommodation in the city, as they continue their ambitious plans to spread the Saracens brand around the globe. A similar plan in last year’s Heineken Cup to play their home fixture against Biarritz in Cape Town eventually collapsed following a dispute over the use of Cape Town Stadium.

With a squad containing numerous South African internationals, including former World Cup winning captain John Smit, and major investment from South African stakeholders over the last three years that has turned Saracens into title contenders, playing a fixture in Cape Town would certainly receive plenty of interest from the South African public, but at the cost of disillusioning home supporters. Saracens are already set to play their home group match against Racing Métro 92 in Brussels.

Despite the club’s continued attempts to broaden the game’s horizons, with a series of matches at Wembley Stadium drawing in record crowds and construction of a new home ground in Allianz Park underway in Barnet, detractors have criticised the club for focusing more on commercial interests than the well-being of their supporters.

By the end of the 2012-2013 season, Saracens will have played ‘home’ matches at seven different locations – Twickenham, Wembley, Vicarage Road, Brussels, Bedford, Milton Keynes and finally Barnet.

Follow Ben Coles on Twitter @bencoles_