Professional rugby will return to Perth for the first time in 14 years on the 18 August, when Glasgow Warriors play a pre-season warm-up match against Harlequins at a specially built 5,000-capacity pop-up stadium in the North Inch public park.
Perth has not hosted a professional rugby game since the Scotland national team defeated Japan 100-8 at McDiarmid Park in their first ever Test match north of the Forth in November 2004. Prior to that, the Caledonia Reds played home games in the city up until their merger with Glasgow Warriors at the tail-end of the last century.
This fixture, “The Famous Grouse Pre-Season Challenge”, is in association with Perth & Kinross Council and will be part of a weekend of activities, with the rugby arena being used for other events.
It was also confirmed yesterday that the Warriors will play their second and final pre-season match six days later away to Northampton Saints.
Former Glasgow Warriors back-row Rory McKay said: “This is huge for us. It’s going to be really exciting just having a professional team come up here.
North Inch is the home of Perthshire RFC and McKay is now the club’s development officer. He added: “From our perspective, in the club’s 150th year, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It’s going to be fantastic for us to push the sport and give us a hook for players in the wider Perthshire area.”
McKay pointed out Scotland 7s star James Fleming, a product of Perthshire rugby, as a shining example of how a top-level player can inspire youngsters, and added that he is hopeful that having a whole team of Warriors players in town can have an even bigger impact.
“James is fantastic for the club because he always makes a point of coming back and meeting the kids and things like that, so having more of those opportunities to give both kids, and older fans like myself, the chance to meet these guys and to see a high-quality game of rugby, is going to be great,” said McKay.
“From a development perspective, I’m hugely excited about being able to advertise the game and we’re going to try to use it to springboard a lot of our events for the year.”
Current Glasgow Warriors stars Zander and Matt Fagerson were in Perth yesterday to officially launch the match. The brothers grew up about 30 miles up the road in Kirriemuir and Zander says he has fond memories of playing at North Inch as a teenager.
“My Under-14s debut was here and I have had a few great days at the Inch. It will be awesome for the community. I only live about 20 minutes away,” he said. “Playing at Stirling [in a pre-season match] last year was close to home as well and the community really backed it – there was a great turnout – so I think it will be an awesome day of rugby.
“There are some great rugby players who are Caley boys in the national team, and in the Glasgow team as well, so it is paramount that we get out to spread the word, to let schools know we are here to support them and get young players coming through.”
While Fagerson welcomed the opportunity to play a home game at a venue outside of Glasgow, he insisted that this was nothing to do with misgivings about the playing surface at the team’s regular home ground.
In fact, he dismissively slapped down complaints from the Scarlets squad earlier this week about burns and blisters sustained on the artificial playing surface during Friday night’s Pro14 semi-final clash at Scotstoun.
“We train on that pitch every day and play on it most weeks and I have never had a scrape,” said Fagerson. “I love it. Scrummaging as well, it does not give way even when it is wet or snowing. I have no problem with it, I completely endorse it and would push for other teams to get it as well.”