Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter claims rugby union is being “singled out” by restricting the crowd for the Premiership final to 10,000 fans at Twickenham.
Under pressure from Uefa, the government recently approved 60,000 fans to attend Euro 2020 sem-finals and final at Wembley. Meanwhile, Wimbledon will be permitted a full house of 15,000 on Centre Court for the men’s and women’s finals, and 32,500 spectators will be allowed to attend The Open at St George’s.
The contrast with the Premiership final between Exeter and Harlequins being allowed less than an eighth of the capacity of Twickenham led Harlequins chief executive Laurie Dalrymple to say that he was “at a total loss as to the logic or rationale behind spectators at live sport at the moment”
Last season Exeter won the Premiership and Champions Cup titles in empty stadiums and the prospect of more supporters missing out on another potential glory day has left Baxter venting his frustration at the inconsistency.“I don’t think anyone involved in rugby isn’t shaking their heads when they see the crowd numbers that are going to be at other sporting events,” said Baxter.
“What can Twickenham hold? 82,000? It seems very odd when other sporting venues have been allowed a quarter of their capacity. Pretty much every other sport seems to have events going on where they have a lot more than 10,000 people there. Why rugby has been singled out, I don’t know.
“It’s obviously as frustrating for the supporters. There are thousands who would have gone who now aren’t going to be able to go. That’s a shame but I suppose you’ve just got to keep taking the positives. We went to two finals last year with zero supporters. Getting 10,000 in there is better than having nobody there at all.”
Baxter’s view was echoed forcefully by Jack Nowell, who believes Premiership Rugby should have lobbied the government harder to have been added to the list of trial events for crowds. “I think we’ve just sat back and taken it, to be honest,” Nowell said. “If there were valid reasons for it and there are a few reasons, our safety comes first, we can’t deny that.
“But the fact that there are other events going on and other amounts of people coming in to watch it who seem to be getting on fine, there’s absolutely no reason for us not to be doing it.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. If everyone was doing it, fair enough, you’ve got to be safe. But the fact that Wembley last night had 25,000 and they’re going to 60,000 next week and you’ve got other sports events going on as well [with crowds]. From a players’ point of view and the team’s point of view, we’re just gutted that we can’t have a lot more people watching it.”
Jack Nowell made his comeback from a lengthy injury layoff with a two-try performance in Exeter’s 40-30 victory against Sale Sharks in the semi-finals, which Baxter suggested should put him firmly in Warren Gatland’s thinking should he require an injury cover for his Lions squad.
“He’s put himself right back in the shop window,” Baxter said. “Now he’s up and running I can’t believe he’s not on the radar for the Lions as well as England. The whole summer could open up for him.”
Nowell’s return came at the expense of an actual Lions tourist, Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, who was relegated to the bench. “He’s very angry and very frustrated in all the right ways,” Baxter said. “That’s what I expect.
“I don’t expect a successful professional sportsman and a world-renowned player to be happy with not being in the team coming into big games. He’s gutted not to be in the team but he’s been very good in training this week.
“He looks to me like he’s preparing to do whatever he can to help win a Premiership trophy.”
Harlequins’s Louis Lynagh ready to come out from famous father’s shadow against Exeter
By Ben Coles
It is just under 30 years since Michael Lynagh helped guide Australia to a Rugby World Cup title triumph at Twickenham. This Saturday his son, Louis, will be hoping for a similarly successful outcome at the same venue when the exciting young wing lines up for Harlequins in the Gallagher Premiership final.
Not that this is the younger Lynagh’s first time taking the field at the home of English rugby, recalling a run-out as a minis player for Richmond during half-time of the 2012 ‘Double Header’ match between Harlequins and Wasps, when he scored twice. “I thought everyone was cheering for me, I didn’t see the bigger picture back then,” Lynagh laughs.
Fittingly, Harlequins’ 27-point turnaround in that ‘Double Header’ fixture at the time was the biggest comeback in Premiership Rugby history. Until last Saturday, when Lynagh and Harlequins shocked Bristol, reversing a 28-0 deficit to win in extra-time and book Harlequins’ ticket to their first Premiership final in nine years. Michael was watching from the stands, and Louis will turn to him for advice this week ahead of the biggest game of his young career.
“I’ll definitely talk to [Michael] about it because he’s been there on a big occasion,” Lynagh explains. “He doesn’t like getting too involved with my career. He will feed helpful information, ‘why did you do this instead of this’, he doesn’t like to be too hands-on with me. He likes to let me find my own way and my own path. But I’ll definitely be asking for tips about the wind at Twickenham.
“We shared a moment [after the semi-final], he came down pitchside and we talked about how brilliant the win was, I didn’t really have many words myself and was quite emotional. I do recall one of the first things he did say was ‘why didn’t you jump when you were getting tackled to score’, so it was just more critical on me really,” Lynagh laughs.
The 20-year-old back, born in Italy, has scored four tries in 10 games for Harlequins in a breakthrough season, as he begins to build his own reputation rather than being compared to his father.
“Obviously I’ll always have that connection and I’m always thankful for that, not only for his help but the opportunities I’ve had to meet certain people and gather information about playing rugby,” adds Lynagh. “But I think especially this season I’ve shown I can pull my own weight and hopefully make more strides to bring my own name to the forefront instead of just being referred to as my dad’s son.”
Not to diminish the young Lynagh’s achievement with Richmond minis nine years ago, but when he steps onto the field on Saturday a slightly more significant prize will be on the line. For father and son, it will be a day to remember.
“I’ve always wanted to make him proud and that’s what I’ve been trying to do since I started playing down at Richmond when I was four. It’s going to be a special weekend for my family and I. Hopefully I can make it that much better by us getting the win on the weekend.”