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Wales ditch Twickenham plans and turn to West Ham’s Olympic Stadium

West Ham play at the Olympic Stadium

Wales are hoping West Ham United can help them out for their autumn internationals after abandoning a plan to play their rescheduled home matches at Twickenham.

Lengthy negotiations between the unions have failed to reach an agreement on the cost of hiring Twickenham, leaving the WRU to consider London’s 2012 Olympic Stadium as a potentially more commercial-friendly option.

The prospect of finding room at the home of West Ham United for a crowd big enough to make the move viable explained why the newly-released fixtures for the Premier League season made for compulsive reading at WRU headquarters in Cardiff.

“Wales have come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t have been worth their while to play at Twickenham,’’ a source told The Rugby Paper.

“The rental cost was considered too high, especially with the capacity being reduced from 82,000 to 30,000.’’

The Welsh Assembly’s ban on all mass gatherings until the New Year at the earliest left Welsh rugby with a stark choice: stay at home and play their Tests behind closed doors or switch them to London on the off-chance of the Government approving restricted attendances.

The dilemma has forced them into the position of announcing a date for their rescheduled Six Nations fixture against Scotland but no venue. It is due to be played on October 31 but where, nobody knows.

West Ham are at Liverpool that weekend, leaving the Olympic Stadium clear to host its first Test rugby since four matches during the 2015 World Cup drew an aggregate attendance of more than 210,000. The issue is far from being that simple.

Wales also need a venue for their home matches in the Eight Nations, an emergency tournament drawn up in response to the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies aborting their autumn tours of Europe. The alternative event is due to start on November 14 and finish three weeks later.

West Ham’s 60,000-seater venue will be required for Premier League business on at least two of those November dates. The other major concern for the WRU is the daily Covid-19 uncertainty over how many, or how few, spectators will be allowed to watch sports events then, if at all.

Faced with losses of up to £50m in revenue this autumn, the union will not be prepared to risk losing more by hiring an alternative venue on the off-chance of selling a limited number of tickets. Welsh fans who bought tickets for the Scotland match before its postponement last March have donated more than £20,000 to the union instead of demanding a refund.

Should the pandemic prevent attendance at matches in England for the rest of the year, Wales will be left with no option but to play behind closed doors, starting with a warm-up against France on November 24.

Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli would be the obvious location.

PETER JACKSON

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