Bilbao and Newcastle to stage European finals
NEWS: European club Rugby Union is set to break new ground after it was announced Monday that Bilbao and Newcastle will be the venues for a major finals weekend in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Both cities will host the European Champions Cup and second-tier European Challenge Cup as well as staging the finals of the European Rugby Continental Shield, a qualifying tournament for the Challenge Cup.
Next year's matches in Bilbao, northern Spain, will be the first time the European club game's showpiece fixtures have taken place outside of an established Rugby Union location.
But the San Mames Stadium will now stage the 2018 finals after European rugby chiefs saw the Nou Camp, the home of Spanish football giants Barcelona, had been in hosting the final of France's domestic Top 14 Rugby Union competition last year.
In 2019, Newcastle United football club's St James' Park ground, which has a capacity of more than 5 ,000, that will stage the finals.
The northeast English city, best known in sporting terms for the football club, is also home to English Premiership Rugby Union club Newcastle.
But the Falcons' Kingston Park ground can only accommodate some 10 000 spectators.
Both Bilbao and Newcastle are now set for a major financial boost as a result of staging the finals, with tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) saying Monday that the economic impact when the French city of Lyon staged last year's corresponding matches was 20.4 million euros (£17.4 million, $21.8 million).
"We are very excited to be taking the best club rugby in the world to fans in what is largely a new market," said EPCR Chairman Simon Halliday in a statement.
"Bilbao is an excellent destination which breaks new ground for our tournaments and we see this as a big step in the expansion of our sport across the continent.
"Fans have previously flocked to matches in Spain both in the European Cup and for last season's Top 14 Final, and they will be sure of a unique, atmospheric weekend in 2018."
Meanwhile the former England international added: "Newcastle's commitment to the bid also made it an easy decision to award them the finals in 2019, building on their significant experience of staging major sporting occasions including Rugby World Cup 2015 matches."
This season's European finals will take at Murrayfield, the Edinburgh headquarters of Scottish Rugby Union, on May 12 and 13.