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Autumn is normally a time when Newcastle United’s St James’ Park is bursting with fans buoyed by hope that this will be the season to bring longed-for football glory to the city.
But this October is rugby’s moment, and the opportunities for Newcastle are immense — for exciting matches, a big economic boost and some great parties (in a city touted as Britain’s party capital).
The three matches at St James’ Park should provide high-excitement rugby: South Africa v Scotland on October 3, New Zealand v Tonga on October 9 and what could be a real thriller of a game between Samoa and Scotland on October 10.
The tournament could not have come at a better moment for city team Newcastle Falcons. The old club of England’s 2003 World Cup star Jonny Wilkinson, the Falcons returned to the Premiership in 2013 and are looking to benefit from any increased interest in rugby.
“We have a huge opportunity,” says Mick Hogan, the Falcons’ managing director. “We believe the World Cup will turbocharge what we are already doing.”
Some 134,000 spectators, including 51,000 overseas fans, are expected in Newcastle and Gateshead over the two weeks. The area’s 7,000 hotel rooms will be in huge demand during an event that some forecasters estimate will generate £93m in economic activity. For the city, the challenge of each game is to get the fans to come sooner and stay longer.
On the eve of the city’s first match, a Falcons Legends game will be held at the team’s home ground. Doddie Weir, Stefan Terblanche, Terry Fanolua and Tom May are among those confirmed to take part.
On October 11, the day after Newcastle’s World Cup ends, the city aims to set the record for the world’s largest linocut. Each host city is to submit a section and local rugby players will heave a scrum machine over it to craft the finished print. But the party will not end there, as Newcastle celebrates the evening with fireworks and drumming.
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