Rugby Union

Record Wembley fixture shows way forward for rugby union

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Saracens defeating Harlequins 39-17 in the Aviva Premiership may have been expected by many fans this past weekend, especially after Quins chose to rest their returning England stars for their match up against the league's form team.

But the fact Owen Farrell and co put on such a display in front of a near capacity Wembley crowd adds added significance to the fixture.

Since 2009, Saracens have decamped from their Barnet base to take over the home of English football for a couple of days every season. The initiative is part of a long-term plan to boost the public's interest, and exposure to, the game of Rugby Union (and Saracens rugby in particular).

And Saturday's fixture was the most well attended yet with 83,889 punters turning up to cheer on their team - a record for any league fixture anywhere in the world, ever.

The whole day was geared towards ensuring a positive experience for those who had parted with their cash to be present. With hundreds of school kids kitted out in their respective club jerseys, and Saracens flags handed out at seemingly every conceivable opportunity, the family atmosphere usually restricted to the smaller stadiums of the league was multiplied tenfold.

With the game also broadcast live to a large television audience, with BT Sport providing blanket coverage, Saturday's game provided the ideal showcase for a sport still battling for the limelight in the shadows of football.

And they were treated to a professional display of dominance from England star Owen Farrell who kicked methodically while also sneaking across the try line courtesy of a well-timed interception at the close of the first half.

Enigmatic Saracens winger, Chris Ashton, started the game off with an interception of his own before running three-quarters of the field and producing his infamous swan-dive celebration to secure the first of five tries for Saracens.

While Harlequins themselves ran in two tries in a game that was eventful if not awe-inspiring.

But while the result was important, sending Saracens back to the summit of the Aviva Premiership and dampening Harlequins' playoff hopes in the process, it is the off-field victory that may prove the most significant in the long-term.

With the Rugby Union World Cup coming to England in 2015, the record Wembley attendance proves that their is an appetite for the game in this country that has the potential to outgrow the limited capacities of current league grounds. 

Admittedly, not every fixture could draw over 80,000 spectators, but the Wembley experiment shows that Rugby Union in England has the right to think big. 

And Saracens chief executive, Edward Griffiths, is doing just that:

"There is a golden opportunity for rugby to grow in almost unimaginable ways over the next few years,” Griffiths said in the lead up to Saturday's game.

"Can it be innovative and imaginative enough to take advantage? The only real obstacle is probably the innate conservatism of rugby administrators.”

Griffiths is certainly not lacking in imagination, and now really is the perfect time for rugby to put it's foot on the accelerator.

With the league benefiting from BT Sports' in-depth coverage this season, team's across the country have never been in a better position to take advantage.

With live games aired on a weekly basis never before has Rugby Union been so readily available to the British public.

Harnessing this exposure is key in building a solid platform for the sport and events like Saturday are the perfect way of doing so.

BT Sport is the only place to exclusively watch live Aviva Premiership Rugby.

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