Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: Northampton Saints want to march in at the Gardens

By Ciaran Donaghy

Northampton are still confident that their Heineken Cup quarter-final with Ulster will be played at Franklin’s Gardens.

The Saints have two weeks to come up with an alternative venue for the game as their home ground is deemed not big enough.

Under the ERC competition regulations, the quarter-final ties must be played at a stadium with at least a 15,000 capacity with Franklin’s Gardens coming up short as it just holds 13,500.

The Saints’ alternative venue is thought to be the Milton Keynes stadium which can accommodate 22,000.

The Saints can appeal to the governing body to keep the game in Northampton but with Ulster likely to bring a huge travelling support for their first quarter-final appearance since winning the trophy in 1999, Franklin’s Gardens may just not be big enough to hold the game.

Northampton full back and former All Black Bruce Reihana wants the game to be played at the Saints’ home where they have won their last 11 European games.

“It certainly would give us an edge playing at the Gardens,” said Reihana.

“It is special at the Gardens and to have a quarter-final there would be great for us and our crowd. It is a bit of a daunting place to come to and the fans are very passionate about their rugby.

“We will get a sell-out, so it would be nice for everybody to be at home.

“If we can get it at home, that would be awesome, but if we get it at Milton Keynes we will do our best to make it our home, but we will see, we might get some temporary seating in there I don’t know,” added Reihana.

A win over Northampton would give Ulster a home semi-final against either Perpignan or Toulon. That is likely to be moved by ERC to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, site of Ulster's greatest triumph in 1999.

That would mean both semis would be played in Dublin as Leinster were also handed a home draw if, in the last four, they can beat Premiership leaders Leicester.

Leinster have already taken the decision to stage their quarter final to the Aviva Stadium, as opposed to the RDS, after consultation with players and coaches.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Ravens’ final British and Irish Cup fixture will take place at Ravenhill on February 23 with a 2.00pm kick off. Ravens cannot progress after their weekend defeat by London Welsh.

A date has still to be agreed for Ulster’s home Magners League game with Newport Dragons.

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