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Records broken and milestones reached across festive weekend of rugby

By Ned Lester
Robert Baloucoune of Ulster celebrates with teammate Stewart Moore. Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

A record number of fans included rugby in their festivities over the weekend as both attendance and TV audience records were broken across different tournaments.

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The United Rugby Championship’s record for the number of fans in attendance at a single round had previously been 121,177, now surpassed by the New Years’ weekend’s numbers which reached 123,307.

The contests in Belfast, Cardiff, Dublin, Durban, Edinburgh and Parma all recorded either sell-out crowds and/or season-high attendances.

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“To break the overall attendance record for a single round in the league’s history is yet another boost for the United Rugby Championship,” URC CEO Martin Anayi said of the accomplishment. “This comes just a week after the Christmas attendance was broken and again shows the superb work our clubs are doing to grow the game.

“To put this achievement in context, the previous record included a 62,000 crowd from Judgement Day in Cardiff in 2018, so to break it without hosting a major double-header is fantastic.

“There was barely a spare seat in Ireland, the Cardiff Arms Park in Wales was full, Edinburgh did a terrific job to get so many into Murrayfield for the 1872 Cup game, while Zebre also had their biggest crowd of the season.

“In South Africa, the concept of playing over Christmas and New Year was very new to their market but fans have embraced ‘summer rugby’ with almost 100,000 attending over two weekends.

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“Right now fans will have lots of demands on how they spend their money and to see so many choosing to buy tickets to support their teams in the URC is humbling.”

The 95,538 local South African fans in attendance outperformed both Ireland (65,873) and Wales (40,753), a remarkably positive sign for the newcomers in the competition, proving their fans’ support hasn’t been weakened by the new schedule.

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Meanwhile, in the Premiership, The Bristol Bears vs Harlequins match reached a record TV audience of 1.04 million, surpassing the million-person audience mark in a regular-season game for the first time in the tournament’s history.

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That number accounted for 6% of all TV viewers in the UK during the game. The previous record was set last season at 963,000 for the Sale Sharks vs Leicester Tigers.

Further records being witnessed in the Premiership this season include the highest tries per match (6.84) as well as the highest points per match (51.7) averages that the competition has seen.

Simon Massie-Taylor, chief executive of Premiership Rugby said: “These figures speak for themselves and we are really pleased with the record-breaking growth in engagement we are seeing across broadcast and social media as well as the return of big crowds to our stadiums. It’s a testament to the amazing entertainment on the pitch and the strength of our competition, as well as the hard work our clubs, broadcast partners, and sponsors are helping us to deliver for the league.

“The Gallagher Premiership is reaching a nail-biting stage now with very little between the bottom and the top four. Every game is now available on BT Sport, ITV, or on our streaming services PRTV and I urge any rugby or sports fans to tune in, follow and enjoy this exciting season.”

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