FORMER Scotland and Newcastle lock Doddie Weir believes that Scotland will benefit from a “home” crowd when they face South Africa and Samoa in the 2015 World Cup in Newcastle.
Scotland will play their opening pool matches in Gloucester and Leeds but the RWC 2015 organisers have handed Scotland the north-east venue they wanted for the crucial final matches which will determine whether they can improve on the demoralising pool exit in New Zealand in 2011.
Weir became a Newcastle legend after joining the club at the start of the Sir John Hall revolution in rugby on Tyneside, along with Gary Armstrong, Alan Tait and George Graham.Weir went on to play a key role in steering the club to English Premiership and Cup success and is still a frequent visitor to Kingston Park, running hospitality at home games and has taken in a few football matches at St James’ Park.
He he believes Scottish supporters with the help of the Geordies could turn it into a home from home.
“It’s great news for Scotland,” he said. “It’s great for rugby, in general, that they are taking games all over England but there is no doubt in my mind that St James’ Park will become a partisan Scottish ground for these matches. The fact that it is near to Scotland means it’s easy for people to get there and home in the same day. And there is also a terrific affinity between the Geordies and Scots. I have experienced that in the time since I joined the club and it has grown with the number of Scots that have played for Newcastle, going back to Gary and the boys, and that golden era we had, to Stuart Grimes, Phil Godman, and now Ally Hogg, Rory Lawson and Scott McLeod, and Mike Blair and Scott Lawson coming shortly.
“It’s also quite an honour to get to play on St James’ Park. I’ve watched games of football there and it’s a wonderful stadium and and a lovely pitch, and I think Scotland’s game with South Africa could be the first game allowed on there because we were never allowed to play on that park. It will be a huge occasion.”
Scotland kick off against the top Asia qualifier, probably Japan, at Gloucester’s Kingsholm ground (16,500 capacity) on Wednesday 23 September, and face the Americas 2 qualifier, likely to be either Canada or the USA, at Leeds FC’s Elland Road (39,460) on Sunday 27 September. They head to Tyneside for the final games with South Africa on Saturday 3 October and Samoa the following Saturday. St James’ Park (52,387) will also host New Zealand v Tonga.
The SRU Director of Communication and Public Affairs, Dominic McKay, commented: “We’re happy with the venues, particularly Newcastle, which will enable a lot of our supporters to be there. Every game will be crucial to our World Cup hopes but it’s fantastic that more Scottish fans will have access to these games, just a hop over the border.”
The tournament kicks off on Friday 18 September, 2015 with England facing an Oceania qualifier, probably Fiji, at Twickenham, and comes to an end with the final, also at Twickenham, on Saturday 31 October. Only four rugby stadia are among the 13 venues – Kingsholm, Sandy Park in Exeter and the Millennium Stadium as well as Twickenham – with the Olympic Stadium, Wembley, Manchester City Stadium, Leicester City Stadium, Villa Park in Birmingham, stadiummk in Milton Keynes and the Brighton Community Stadium also on the list, but 25 games will be played in rugby grounds, 16 in football stadia and seven in multi-event venues.
Chief Executive Debbie Jevans, the former director of sport at the London Olympics, explained that the venues balanced a desire to take games to a wide audience across the country with the need to maximise revenue and generate the £80m demanded by the IRB.
Wembley will welcome World Cup holders New Zealand against Argentina, and the Olympic Stadium – with its capacity lowered from 80,000 to 54,000, and a new artificial pitch installed - hosts games involving France, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Italy and qualifiers.
If the Scots reach the quarter-finals they will meet the winners or runners-up from Pool A, which features England, Australia and Wales, either at the Millennium Stadium or Twickenham, with the semi-finals also at Twickenham.