Heineken Cup finals handed to Cardiff and Twickenham
THE homes of Welsh and English, rather than Irish, rugby will stage the next two Heineken Cup finals after the ERC yesterday confirmed the Millennium Stadium would host the 2011 decider, followed by Twickenham in 2012.
Irish hopes of the redeveloped Lansdowne Road being selected for next season's final had been dashed since ERC chairman Jean-Pierre Lux confirmed to the Irish Independent on March 30 that he believed it would be "impossible" for the Dublin stadium to stage the final three days after hosting the Europa League soccer decider.
Both the Millennium (74,500) and Twickenham (82,000) have capacities considerably higher than Dublin's Aviva-sponsored stadium (just over 50,000), which may well have counted against Lansdowne Road.
Meanwhile, Declan Kidney announces his squad for the summer tour this morning and with Tests against New Zealand and Australia to negotiate, as well a third assignment against the New Zealand Maori, the Ireland coach is expected to bring more than 30 players on the trip.
Today's media briefing will also involve representatives of the four provinces, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne and Six Nations chief executive John Feehan to outline their positions regarding Minister Eamon Ryan's proposal to designate the Heineken Cup and Six Nations as free-to-air.
In other news, the International Rugby Board (IRB) council have approved a new decade-long playing schedule that will place a renewed emphasis on traditional tours involving the top Test sides.
The new calendar, which will begin in 2012, is designed to provide more "meaningful" meetings between southern hemisphere and Six Nations countries.
The IRB plan to have northern hemisphere sides touring their southern hemisphere counterparts on a rotational basis in June, with each host nation playing a two- or three-Test series against one touring side. There will also be a move back to midweek tour matches, a feature which has fallen out of vogue in the professional era.
The IRB also outlined a commitment to developing second-tier nations, with return tours planned to the Pacific Islands, North America and 2019 World Cup hosts Japan.
Meanwhile, Wales coach Warren Gatland has backed Andy Powell to justify his recall to the squad in next month's Tests with South Africa and New Zealand.
The Cardiff Blues back-rower sat out the end of the Six Nations after being charged with driving a golf buggy while over the alcohol limit, but Gatland insists he deserves a second chance.
"He desperately wants to prove some of his critics wrong," he said.