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Kingspan Stadium being lined up as potential host venue for Champions Cup final



Ulster's Kingspan Stadium could host the final of the European Champions Cup

Ulster's Kingspan Stadium could host the final of the European Champions Cup

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Ulster's Kingspan Stadium could host the final of the European Champions Cup

Ulster's Kingspan Stadium could potentially be the host venue for the final of the European Rugby Champions Cup as organisers try to schedule the tournament around the coronavirus pandemic.

The tournament, which is run by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), is yet to complete its 2019/20 schedule, with the quarter-finals due to be played on the weekend of September 19/20.

Ulster themselves are still involved and are due to face French side Toulouse on Sunday, September 20 in their last-eight tie, which was originally to be held in April only for it to be postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

With various travel restrictions in place, the original final destination of Marseille has had to be abandoned, with the 2021 final going there instead.

However, that has left chiefs scrambling for a new final venue and, amazingly, the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast is on a list of potential stadiums that could hold European rugby's biggest club game.

EPCR chief Simon Halliday has confirmed that the final will not be held at a pre-determined venue given the logistical challenges that presents, and has instead revealed that a stadium based in the country one of the competing teams will host the game.

That means should Ulster progress to the Champions Cup final, then they could have home advantage as they aim to win the trophy for the first time since their infamous 1999 success.

"In every country, there are stadiums we've earmarked," Halliday told the Daily Mail. "It depends on the participants. We've got the Kingspan or the Aviva in Ireland. In England it definitely won't be Twickenham but we're considering Ashton Gate or the Ricoh."

Meanwhile, Halliday has also confirmed that rugby cannot continue to exist in its current form without fans forever and has earmarked Exeter Chiefs' European quarter-final against the Northampton Saints as a potential test run to welcome back supporters.

Clubs have been losing money during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly at grassroots level, with the lack of ticket and concession sales hitting professional clubs while they still have to pay staff.

Some rugby matches have seen fans return, with Edinburgh and the Glasgow Warriors playing in front of 1,000 spectators at BT Murrayfield last weekend, while Clermont Auvergne have confirmed they will play their Top 14 opener against Toulouse in front of 10,000 fans this weekend.

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Saturday's Gallagher Premiership game between Harlequins and Bath at the Twickenham Stoop will be treated as a trial run, with a limited number of fans allowed in to watch the game, and Halliday hopes that will open up the possibility of the Sandy Park quarter-final doing likewise.

"We massively respect the protocols in place but I believe people in positions of authority in the sporting world have got to keep asking the question," he added.

"The game simply cannot continue if we don't get crowds back in. That is clear. From a European club perspective, clubs generate a serious amount of revenue from these matches.

"I don't want to think about the potential impact of no crowds in the Six Nations. That revenue filters down to the grassroots games - that's what's at stake.

"Harlequins have been asked to do a trial. If we get a great outcome from that, why would you not try to get some kind of crowd into the Exeter vs Northampton quarter-final?

"Can we get fans in at two weeks' notice? I should hope so. I'm sure we could respond quickly so it's important to keep it on the agenda. It's critical."

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