England supporters are set to go thirsty at Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final against France with the Rugby Football Union keeping the Twickenham bars shut when fans return for the first time since March.
It is understood the RFU has decided alcohol will be available only “in restaurant-style facilities and be served to the table with a substantial meal”, in line with government regulations on hospitality venues in tier 2. As a result, the bars around the stadium will stay closed with just one stall – offering food, soft drinks and tea and coffee – open. Supporters, who are ordinarily allowed to drink in their seats, will also be banned from bringing alcohol with them.
When Twickenham is at capacity, the RFU can make upwards of £10m per match, and takings from men’s home games account for 85% of the union’s revenue. Alcohol sales account for a significant part and while catering revenue was down 41% in the RFU’s latest annual report because of the pandemic, it still registered at £32.2m.
The RFU has already acknowledged that Sunday’s match will be loss-making, viewing the opportunity to host 2,000 supporters as a test event in the hope that more will be able to attend the three home Six Nations games next year.
The RFU has sold out its £299 hospitality packages for Sunday’s match and is donating 400 to local NHS workers via a ballot. Around 1,000 of the remaining tickets are on Tuesday set to go on sale to local residents, members and debenture holders, with the vast majority of those attending coming from the local area, London and the south-east. Anyone living in a tier 3 area is not allowed to attend, according to the RFU’s protocols.
All supporters who attend will have to agree to a spectator code of conduct and face ejection from the stadium if they do not adhere to it.
Other stadium protocols – which the RFU says go above and beyond guidance from the government and the Sports Ground Safety Authority – include that face masks must be worn at all times, except when eating and drinking, while supporters are encouraged to walk, cycle or drive to the match rather than take public transport.One-way systems will be in operation around the stadium and supporters will be given staggered arrival times to minimise the buildup of large groups.
The 20-year-old Alfie Barbeary has been called up by England for the first time by Eddie Jones for Sunday’s match. Barbeary was among the try-scorers for Wasps at the weekend and has established a burgeoning reputation as an all-action forward – able to play either at hooker or flanker. He has made only two starts for Wasps and seven appearances in total but has evidently impressed Jones, winning a place in England’s 33-man squad.
In the backs, Jonathan Joseph has been ruled out with a calf injury but Ollie Lawrence returns to the squad after missing Saturday’s victory in Wales. All told, it is largely the strongest squad available to Jones, even though England will face a desperately depleted France side.
Due to an uneasy compromise between the French federation and Top 14 clubs, France players can play only three matches this autumn, leaving Fabien Galthié without 20 front-line players, plus those who are absent through injury. It was announced on Monday that the scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud will captain the side while making his first Test start and winning only his fifth cap.
Meanwhile, the RFU has revealed that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has given its approval for the return of adapted 15-a-side contact rugby in the community game. The changes include no scrums – with a free-kick taking their place – and no mauls.