MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Saracens and Newcastle Falcons Prepare for Premier League Take-Over in International Break

Tomorrow sees both Saracens and Newcastle Falcons take home Gallagher Premiership fixtures to Premier League football stadiums.

Saracens will host Harlequins at the London Stadium, home of West Ham United, at 3pm before the Falcons take over St James’ Park for their match with Sale Sharks at 5.30pm.

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With domestic football taking a break this weekend for internationals, these occasions have become crucial in growing the league. They have proved popular with both regular and new fans forming an important part of the domestic rugby union calendar.

The North London club were the first to take the step to move matches into football stadiums. Their first “home” match at Wembley was in September 2009 when a crowd of 44,832 saw them beat Northampton 19-16.

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After a failed attempt at hosting a Boxing Day fixture, Saracens launched the “Derby Day” game against Harlequins in 2012. The Wembley date was a massive success and three times broke the record for an attendance at a club rugby match, which currently stands at 84,068.

Tottenham’s temporary move to Wembley saw the 2017-18 edition moved to the London Stadium where a sell-out crowd saw Saracens defeat their London rivals 24-11. This year the plan was to host the match at Tottenham’s new stadium, however with delays meaning the football club will not move in until April, Saracens will once again return to East London.

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Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall is looking forward to playing at the new White Hart Lane in the future. He told the official Saracens website: “This game should have been there if Tottenham’s ground had been available when we thought it would be. It is very exciting and it is more our area.

“We are looking forward to Tottenham’s ground being completed and that becoming our home for this game for the years to come, The Olympic Stadium is a bit of a neutral venue.”

Once the action in London is over, attention will switch to St James’ Park, normally home of Newcastle United but for one day only, the home of Newcastle Falcons.

“The Big One” was launched last season when Falcons beat Northampton 25-22 in front of a crowd of 30,174 with BT Sport commentator Nick Mullins saying they were: “taking rugby to a cathedral of football.”

Tomorrow’s match against Sale is a crucial one for the Falcons who are looking to avoid relegation.

Veteran fly half Toby Flood praised the work of the club in growing rugby in the North East with St James’ Park set to host the European Champions Cup Final in May and an England international in September.

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He said: “If you said to me when I started my career with Newcastle that we would be coming here for a second year, filling out 30,000, that is fantastic.

I couldn’t have imagined we would be putting this on and I’m proud for the supporters to come and for North East supporters to see what we are about.”

Despite criticism from some parties for moving games from “traditional” venues, these matches have become an important fixture in the Gallagher Premiership and it would not be a surprise to see other clubs using football stadiums in the future.