Here are today’s rugby headlines from Wales and the wider rugby world.
Wales’ most expensive tickets ever go on sale
Wales’ most expensive Six Nations tickets in history go on sale today amid mounting pressure on the WRU to take action after a series of drunken incidents inside the Principality Stadium during the autumn internationals.
Tickets for the France, Scotland and Italy home matches will be available to the public for the first time from 10am via the WRU.
The top-priced tickets of £115 for the France and Scotland games are the most expensive Wales rugby tickets there have ever been.
It comes at a difficult time for the Union after an autumn series blighted by pitch intruders and countless reports of alcohol-fuelled boorish behaviour. In one incident, a young boy was vomited on by a drunken fan.
Some are calling for a ban on alcohol inside the stadium, or for the bars to be closed during the duration of a match.
The Welsh Rugby Union has introduced an increase of £10 across three ticket categories for matches at the Principality Stadium as a direct reflection of financial pressure caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
They say the “economic argument for price increases is particularly strong in 2022”.
The highest three categories to watch Wales in 2022 for Scotland and France are £115, £105 and £100, up from £105, £95 and £90 the last time these teams headed to the Welsh capital in 2020.
At the other end of the scale, the WRU has stuck to its previous promise and the lowest-category tickets do not rise above £40 (and start at £30 for Wales v Italy, where concessionary tickets are available in all categories).
Tickets are available here. The full 2022 Six Nations fixture list is here.
Oz preferred candidate for 2027 World Cup
Australia has emerged as the ‘preferred candidate’ to host the 2027 World Cup, with the United States still firmly in the frame to host in 2031.
In a fresh approach to the process, World Rugby has added in a ‘preferred candidate’ stage, which means the mooted host nation can begin working with the governing body without having been officially handed the tournament.
Final hosting rights will be officially awarded in May next year. However, at this stage, a u-turn would be surprising.
The US had been battling with Australia for 2027 but the announcement overnight effectively brings that to an end. The council say, though, that they are in ‘exclusive targeted dialogue’ with the US over the 2031 tournament.
England has received similar backing to Australia over the 2025 Women’s World Cup.
Delight for Cuthbert
Ospreys head coach Toby Booth has spoken of the region’s delight at seeing Alex Cuthbert make his international return after four years.
Cuthbert started and scored against Fiji after returning from the international wilderness this autumn.
It’s been a stunning turnaround for the winger who left Wales for Exeter Chiefs after a difficult period in 2017 saw him face huge criticism for his performances.
Booth said: “You saw how much it meant to him and the pictures after with his young family.
“Sport can be such a cruel place.
“The margins are tight, high-performance is tight.
“To see a good guy like him — and he is a good guy, he’s really contributed on and off the pitch since he’s come back here — getting back to scoring a try for his country in front of his family is a really good story.
“We’re delighted for him.”
Canada player’s red card overturned
Canadian loose-head prop Olivia DeMerchant is free to play again immediately after the red card she received in her side’s 24-7 win over Wales was overturned.
DeMerchant was given her marching orders in the 34th minute of the match, with Wales leading 7-0, after what was deemed a high tackle on flanker Bethan Lewis.
The referee decided that contact was made with the head of the Wales player and brandished a red card.
However, the disciplinary committee deemed there was ‘no conclusive evidence that the player’s shoulder had come in contact with the tackled player’s head and neck area’.
DeMarchant rejected that she had committed an act of foul play and Lewis also submitted that she did not recall head contact being made.
As such, the disciplinary committee did not ban the Canadian and she is free to play.
RFU lose millions
The Rugby Football Union has revealed revenue for the financial year 2020-21 stood at £120million less than pre-coronavirus forecasts.
Reported revenue is £97m, down from £167m in the previous year, with an underlying loss to reserves of £21.3m, which is £30m worse than pre-Covid forecasts.
Financial stability has been secured through cost cutting measures including 119 redundancies, a debenture donation programme and emergency financial schemes made available by the Government.
Support from the coronavirus job retention scheme totalled £2.3m and £2.25m was received from the business rates relief scheme.
Professional rugby investment in the year was £40.3m compared to £66.4m in the prior year.
RFU chief executive officer Bill Sweeney said: “This 150th year of the RFU has been an immensely challenging one for the union and our sport.
“We have worked harder than ever before to support the professional and community game though the pandemic, with a clearly focused strategic plan to ensure we deliver real benefit and support to the game.
“As we emerge out of Covid, the RFU will continue to take a leadership role in reshaping and improving the game for the benefit of all involved.”
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Saracens to play URC side in friendly
Saracens have filled a blank weekend in their Challenge Cup campaign by agreeing to play Siya Kolisi’s Cell C Sharks in a friendly at StoneX Stadium on January 15.
Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi and Ox Nche are among the South Africa stars to play for the Durban-based province, who compete in the United Rugby Championship.
With the match being staged before England gather to begin preparations for the Six Nations, the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Jamie George are available for the hosts.
“I’m sure there will be an amazing atmosphere and with two full strength teams packed with such high class players all over the pitch, it promises to be a memorable match,” Saracens boss Mark McCall said.