JUDGEMENT DAY at Principality Stadium has broken the Guinness PRO12 attendance record again, this time with nearly three weeks still to go until kick-off – on Saturday (Apr 30) .
Last year’s Welsh regional double-header was attended by 52,762 fans, comfortably surpassing the previous championship record, held by an Irish derby clash at the Aviva Stadium between Leinster and Munster in 2014.
The annual event, now in its fourth incarnation, more than doubles nearly every other attendance figure in Guinness PRO12 fixture list so far this season and has been tipped to become a must-see capacity occasion in the Cardiff capital by Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies.
With the 52,763rd ticket sold by the Principality Stadium ticket office this morning, the only comparable fixture to Judgement Day this year, to date, is again the Munster versus Leinster derby which attracted 43,108 to the Aviva at the start of this month.
The celebration derby day in Wales, dubbed JDIV, will see Cardiff Blues face the Ospreys at 2.30pm and then European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-finalists Newport Gwent Dragons host the Scarlets at 5pm in back-to-back clashes under the Principality Stadium’s famous roof – in the penultimate round (21) of the Guinness PRO12.
The Blues and Ospreys are both still vying for a play-off spot this season, currently lying 10 and 14 points, respectively, behind the fourth placed Scarlets – with 15 points from three bonus point wins still theoretically available.
The all-important top six spots in the table – which would at present reading bring qualification for the 2016/2017 European Champions Cup – are also within touching distance for each side, as they are currently lying in eighth and ninth places.
Both of these teams will desperately want to beat their close rivals as the business end of the season reaches its climax, after first facing Benetton Treviso (Ospreys) and the Dragons (Blues) at home matches in round 20 this coming weekend.
For the JDIV game one victors it could then be ‘all on’ for round 22, the final weekend of the season, prior to play-offs, when the Blues travel to Edinburgh and the Ospreys host Ulster.
The Scarlets are currently the highest placed Welsh team in the Guinness PRO12 table, but they also have a tough run-in hosting Glasgow and travelling to Munster either side of their JDIV, match two, meeting with the Dragons.
The Newport Gwent region are mathematically out of play-off contention and can’t finish in the top seven, but a strong run in Europe is keeping their season alive in style – they face Montpellier in the European Challenge Cup semi-finals the week preceding JDIV.
The Dragons could qualify for the European Champions Cup outright if they win its sister tournament and so would be forgiven for keeping one eye on that campaign, but derby bragging rights remain at stake as always on Judgement Day to ensure them no respite.
“Last year’s Judgement Day fixtures saw us process thousands of tickets on the day of the event and we fully expect a large walk-up crowd at Principality Stadium for another guaranteed record breaking day this year,” said a WRU spokesperson.
“It will be a proud moment when during the second match of the day we announce our final crowd figure and set another new record for attendance at a Guinness PRO12 match-day.
“But, whilst it is great news for us at the turn-styles that we get so many last minute purchasers for this celebration of regional rugby, we would like to remind people that buying tickets in advance is the best way to ensure they get the seats they want and don’t miss out on any of the action.
“We will continue to monitor sales and keep the public up to date as we near capacity, but the best way to ensure that you don’t miss out on a magnificent day of regional rugby at Principality Stadium is to buy now and join the 53,000 others who have already joined Judgement Day celebrations.”
Commenting on the record-breaking crowd, Martin Anayi, managing director, PRO12 Rugby said:
“Judgement Day has become one of the Guinness PRO12’s ‘must-go-to’ events and it is terrific news that with three weeks to go until the event the previous attendance record has been broken.
“With over 28,000 recently attending the Guinness PRO12 derbies in Wales; over 43,000 flocking to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium for Leinster against Munster; and the climax to the season, the Guinness PRO12 Final at BT Murrayfield on 28 May, already on course to be one of the biggest finals ever; it shows there is a huge appetite and opportunity for fans to be part of some great Guinness PRO12 occasions over the last two months of the season.”
Mark Davies, Chief Executive of Pro Rugby Wales said: “It’s very positive for Welsh Rugby and Guinness PRO12 that this major club rugby event in our season is building so successfully and that we’ll exceed last year’s record crowd at the Principality Stadium.
“The Judgement Day double-header will be a fantastic conclusion to a successful series of Welsh derbies over the past month that have captured the spirit and passion of Welsh rugby – with supporters looking forward to another big derby this Sunday at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park as the Cardiff Blues face the Newport Gwent Dragons.
“It’s one of most exciting and significant periods we’ve ever had in a block for professional rugby in Wales with potentially 100,000 supporters enjoying Welsh derbies over a six week period at such a critical stage in the Guinness PRO12 battle for our teams.
“There’s so much riding on these games and with it the chance to see our best players in Wales both current internationals and future stars playing on the same pitch on the same day.”
Tickets for Judgement Day IV have been frozen at 2015 prices and can be purchased now at £10 per person (booking fees apply) from www.wru.wales/tickets (print at home available), by calling 0844 847 1881, in person from the WRU Ticket Office on Westgate Street, from each of the four regions or from Tesco stores throughout Wales.
Season tickets purchased from either of the home teams – Blues and Dragons – include access to Judgement Day IV, with fans asked to liaise with the respective box offices.
Both matches will be shown live on television with BBC Wales showing the first match and S4C the second.
Swans grab last gasp play-off spot
WAYNE ROUTLEDGE’s last-gasp header saw Swansea City secure a play-off spot with a handsome away victory over 10-man Reading on a dramatic Wednesday night (July 22).
Steve Cooper’s side knew they had to win at the Madejski Stadium to have any hope of a top-six finish, and Rhian Brewster’s 10th goal of the season gave them an ideal start.
The sending off of Yakou Meite then gave the Swans a man advantage, but the Royals equalised before the half through a George Puscas penalty.
The Swans restored their lead through a classy finish from substitute Routledge, before Liam Cullen showed great composure to steer in his first goal for the club.
And when Routledge popped up at the death to complete his brace it put the Swans into the top six as Forest suffered a 4-1 defeat at home to Stoke, meaning Swansea got into the play-offs on goal difference.
The Swans started on the front foot, with centurion Connor Roberts having particular joy down the right-hand flank.
Brewster then nearly threaded Conor Gallagher in on goal after fine work by Andre Ayew, before Roberts hit a strike into the ground and over the bar after Jake Bidwell had made the overlap on the opposite flank.
The hosts responded by having a good spell of possession, probing and asking a few questions of their own.
But the visitors hit the lead in the 16th minute through Brewster. The striker picked the ball up some 30 yards out and got the ball out of his feet before smashing a long-range drive that completely deceived Rafael in the Reading goal.
John Swift curled a free-kick over at the other end, while more good work by Roberts could not quite end with Bidwell getting on the end of a deep cross before Rafael made a hash of dealing with a Gallagher cross.
Swift headed straight at Erwin Mulder from a good counter on the half-hour mark, with Ayew quickly advancing up the field to work Rafael again.
Opportunities were coming at both ends, with Mulder called into action again as Meite took aim from the left side of the area.
Swansea were riding their luck a little and had a let-off when a sliced clearance landed on top of the bar.
Matt Grimes had a free-kick pushed away by Rafael before the home side were reduced to 10 men after Meite had pushed Mike van der Hoorn in the face after a tussle for the ball.
But the hosts made light of the numerical disadvantage by levelling after Bidwell was adjudged to have fouled Andy Rinomhota, with Puscas beating Mulder – who got a hand to the strike – from the spot.
However, the Swans should have led at the break. Ben Cabango’s shot was blocked and fell to Jay Fulton, but the Scot pulled his shot wide of the target.
Rafael pushed away an Ayew drive right on half-time, with Swansea frustrated that referee Stephen Martin did not award them a penalty of their own as Fulton went down under a challenge from Omar Richards.
With Cardiff winning and Nottingham Forest losing, Cooper knew goals were needed and he made two changes at the break.
Yan Dhanda came on for Fulton, while Routledge replaced van der Hoorn, and they were immediately on the front foot.
With Swansea committing so many players forward, Reading looked to sit deep and play on the break and they proved resolute as the visitors battled to find a way through.
Grimes curled a free-kick wide of the target and Gallagher also threatened from distance, but the hour mark came and went without any clear-cut chances to show for their dominance of possession and territory.
However, when they did craft a sight of goal they took the chance clinically. Grimes produced a lovely ball, and Routledge controlled superbly to loft the ball over Rafael and into the net.
Unfortunately for the Swans, that goal went in moments after Forest had equalised against Stoke, which appeared to put a sizeable dent in their playoff aspirations.
Nevertheless, Cooper’s side continued to search for more goals in the hope events in the East Midlands would turn back in their favour.
They so nearly made it 3-1 with 17 minutes to play as lovely link play from Rutledge and Bidwell ended with Ayew steering just wide.
The situation was changing all the time, and Stoke retook the lead at Forest to leave the door ajar for the Swans.
And, when Stoke scored a third at the City Ground and Cullen coolly fired home his first senior goal for the club with six minutes remaining, they suddenly only needed a goal to finish in the play-off places.
Grimes had a deflected shot tipped over but the Swans then got the goal they needed in stoppage time as Routledge popped up to nod in at the far post, with Stoke’s fourth goal putting the matter beyond doubt a few moments later to spark delighted celebrations among Cooper, his players and his staff.
Glamorgan launch new kit
GLAMORGAN Cricket has unveiled its new Vitality Blast playing kit for the 2020 season.
Designed by the Club’s official kit supplier, Masuri, alongside Glamorgan’s management, players and coaches, the brand-new Vitality Blast strip contains a subtle Welsh twist.
Fitting Glamorgan’s traditional colour schemes, the top is dark navy with a tonal dragon across the front – a nod to the old Glamorgan nickname and the Welsh identity – while a sharp yellow trim on the neck and sleeves frames the top.
The famous ‘Daff’ sits on the heart of the shirt, with MiPost’s strong Welsh brand centre-stage. Appearing on the collars are the logos of ‘Official Players Car Partner’, Mon Motors and Welsh company, Philtronics Solutions, with Discover Leeks on the right sleeve and SA Group on the back.
The famous Aston Martin logo features on both side of the Glamorgan T20 cap, as they continue their ongoing support of the club.
Head of Commercial, Huw Warren, said: “We’ve enjoyed working with Masuri throughout the design process and together developed an exciting new kit we’re sure our supporters will love with its strong connections with Wales.
“Our Masuri kits have always been hugely successful with players and fans alike and we look forward to continuing our commercial partnership with them.
“We can’t wait to see our players wearing the new kit when the Blast gets underway later this summer.”
Masuri CEO, Sam Miller, said: ‘’Once again it has been a pleasure working with the team at Glamorgan to bring this year’s kit to life, and we are looking forward to seeing it in use during the much anticipated Vitality Blast this year.’’
Wembley trip for Giggs’ men
CYMRU will travel to Wembley Stadium on Thursday 8 October for a home nations international against England.
Ryan Giggs’ side will return to action this autumn for the first time in 10 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kicking off with the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League campaign. The match against England will be one of two additional international matches scheduled as triple headers in October and November. In keeping with current Government guidelines, this fixture is scheduled to be played behind-closed-doors.
Since their first encounter in 1879, England are Cymru’s second oldest opponents with 102 matches in total producing 14 wins, 21 draws and 67 defeats. Cymru’s last visit to Wembley Stadium was in 2011 for a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier, with Ashley Cole scoring in a 1-0 defeat.
Ryan Giggs’ side will be using this match to prepare for the rescheduled EURO 2020 finals next summer where they hope to return to Wembley, one of the host stadiums, for the latter stages of the tournament.
Looking ahead to the autumn, Cymru are in Nations League Group B4 alongside Bulgaria, Finland and the Republic of Ireland with fixture dates as follows:
Thursday, 3 September – Finland v Cymru (7:45pm)
Sunday, 6 September – Cymru v Bulgaria (2:00pm)
Sunday, 11 October – Republic of Ireland v Cymru (2:00pm)
Wednesday, 14 October – Bulgaria v Cymru (7:45pm)
Sunday, 15 November – Cymru v Republic of Ireland (5:00pm)
Wednesday, 18 November – Cymru v Finland (7:45pm)
All fixtures are scheduled to be played behind-closed-doors for the foreseeable future.
The FAW will continue to adhere to relevant Government guidelines and supporters will be notified should arrangements change and tickets become available.
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