Wales venues’ tug-of-war to woo Ospreys


Ospreys future home ground announced Image: Ospreys Rugby (Facebook)

The Council chiefs in Swansea want the Ospreys (Rugby Union team) to play rugby at the City’s (Swansea, UK) St Helen’s Rugby and Cricket Ground in what has become a two-horse race to attract the regional side.

‘WalesOnline’ stated that they are flying the flag for the seaside venue and home of the Welsh rugby union team Swansea RFC after the Ospreys said they no longer planned to play at the Stadium in Landore (UK) after the 2024-2025 seasons.

The Ospreys, formerly the Neath-Swansea Ospreys is one of the four professional rugby union teams from Wales. They compete in the United Rugby Championship and the European Rugby Champions Cup (the top-tier competition for clubs who compete in a predominantly European league).

The 21,088-capacity Stadium is an all-seated multiuse sports stadium and conferencing venue located in the Landore area of Swansea, Wales (UK), hosting both rugby union and football games. The stadium opened in 2005 and was named the Liberty Stadium.

The United Rugby Championship is an annual rugby union competition involving professional teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales.

The Swansea Rugby Football Club is a Welsh rugby union team which plays in the Welsh Premiership. The club play at the St Helen’s Rugby and Cricket Ground in Swansea (UK) and are also known as ‘The Whites’ in reference to their home kit colors.

The 4,500-capacity St Helen’s Rugby and Cricket Ground, commonly known simply as the St Helen’s Ground, is a sports venue in Swansea, Wales (UK) owned and operated by the City and County of the Swansea Council. Used mainly for rugby union and cricket, it has been the home ground of the Swansea RFC and the Swansea Cricket Club since it opened in 1873.

‘WalesOnline’ further stated that the Ospreys have confirmed that their search for a new home is now down to the St Helen’s and Bridgend’s (Wales, UK) 8,000-capacity Dunraven Brewery Field. Both grounds, said the club, offered unique advantages. The St Helen’s, which is owned by the Council, would need considerable investment and although no decisions have been made, a move there by the Ospreys would, it seems, spell the end of cricket’s 149-year association at the ground.

Remarked Rob Stewart, Council Leader, “We’re prepared to work on the current Ospreys proposal for St Helen’s to become a modern rugby stadium, helping the region to make their home there and remain in Swansea. We’re doing all we can to support the Ospreys to stay in Swansea, while also working with all of our sporting stakeholders to provide top-class facilities to them.”

Ospreys Chief Executive Lance Bradley announced in January that the team would be leaving the 20,000-capacity Stadium for a smaller venue. Recently, the Welsh rugby union team Neath RFC said its home the 6,000-capacity The Gnoll in Neath, Wales, would not become the new ground.

Speaking on May 23rd, Bradley stated, “I am happy to share that we have narrowed down our decision to two fantastic grounds, each offering unique opportunities, and we are confident that either choice would be more than suitable as the Ospreys’ new home.”

He said the Swansea and Bridgend Councils had been a pleasure to work with thus far, and added, “I look forward to being able to share our preferred option in the coming weeks and working in partnership with the relevant Council to ensure our new home becomes the hub of the community.”

The Ospreys will remain at the Stadium for the 2024-2025 seasons and ensure the selected new ground is fit-for-purpose thereafter.

The statement came a week after the Swansea Council’s Cabinet discussed a report about St Helen’s in closed session. Details haven’t been made public but leaders have now set out their intentions. The St Helen’s proposal would, said the Council, mean the ground becoming a rugby stadium for a range of users, including the Swansea RFC and the Swansea University, and be developed in a phased manner over a number of years, increasing capacity and improving the player and visitor experience.

The proposal does not feature the neighboring recreation ground and the Council said it would want the Swansea Cricket Club, which has played at St Helen’s since 1875, to be relocated in a manner agreed by the club as part of any approved plan.

Commented Councilor Robert Francis-Davies, Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration, Events, and Tourism, “We want to work with the Ospreys to improve St Helen’s as a key sporting facility to the benefit of first-class regional rugby and as a community sports venue.”

The proposal, he said, was to secure investment at a time of significant budget pressures to modernize the ground while ensuring access for community and student sport.

He added, “We’re talking with the Swansea Cricket Club about helping them relocate to an alternative facility suitable for their games in the top division of the South Wales Premier Cricket League (the top level of competition for recreational club cricket in South Wales).”

The Bridgend Council said an Ospreys move to the Brewery Field, which hosted the Ospreys matches against Cardiff Rugby (one of the four professional Welsh rugby union teams) and Sale Sharks (a professional rugby union club from Greater Manchester, England) this season, would benefit the town and the club.

Maintained Councilor Neelo Farr, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Economic Development and Housing, “We are fully supportive of the Ospreys’ plans to potentially relocate to the Bridgend County Borough and we are looking forward to further talks as we continue to discuss the many mutual benefits of any such move, including the massive economic boost that it would bring to the entire area. The Dunraven Brewery Field would offer the Ospreys a unique opportunity to base themselves in the heart of a town center, with Bridgend being perfectly placed on the M4 corridor and having lots of public transport options with the nearby train and bus stations.”

He added, “The Ospreys already have lots of strong community links throughout the county borough and it’s fantastic that many of their current players are from Bridgend and started their rugby journeys by playing for our local teams.”

Back in Swansea, the St Helen’s has been home to the Swansea RFC since 1876. Touring international rugby sides played there, attracting crowds said to have reached 50,000. The ‘All Whites’, as the team is known, was the first club side to claim the big Southern Hemisphere scalps of Australia, in 1908, South Africa four years later, and New Zealand in 1935. The Swansea RFC finished 10th in the Welsh Premiership this season.

The Ospreys Supporters Club said the Stadium was too large for the rugby side and had been for some time.

The future though for the Swansea Cricket Club, which celebrates its 150-year anniversary next year, looks uncertain.

Noted Mike Hayden, Swansea Cricket Club Chairman, “Emotionally, would we want to move from St Helen’s? Definitely not. Unfortunately, the bigger picture is beyond our control. We understand that we are tenants at St Helen’s and it is a Council-owned ground. We have to work with all the stakeholders and hopefully they will honor us suitably.”

Added Hayden, “There’s probably cricket every evening in the week during the Summer.”

Referring to the club’s lengthy occupation of the St Helen’s crease, he said, “History is history. As a club the most important thing for us is the future. If it is to be away from St Helen’s we will deal with that.”

He said the cricket club wanted to be treated fairly, and added, “Provided that we are not disadvantaged and are provided with facilities to Premier League standard, we would have to be positive.”

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