Wallabies to host England in three Tests

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) says it is listening to fans by downsizing the venues for two Tests next year against England.

The Wallabies will play England in three Tests, with the first on June 11 at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

But the remaining matches will be played on June 18 at the 30,000-seat Melbourne Rebels’ home ground of AAMI Park and Sydney’s 45,000-Allianz Stadium on June 25.

This is a switch from the larger Etihad Stadium (45,000) and ANZ Stadium (83,500), which the Wallabies have preferred in the past but have failed to sell out.

ARU general manager of professional rugby, marketing and operations Rob Clarke said fans had been clear that they preferred a more-intimate venue.

“We put together a fan survey with 8000 respondents from the rugby community,” Clarke said.

“The overwhelming feedback was that the fan experience is enhanced when they can sit in a stadium like AAMI Park and feel as though they are engaged and close to the activity.”

Last year, the Wallabies played France at Etihad, with a disappointing crowd and lacklustre atmosphere. The outcome was better in rugby strongholds Sydney and Brisbane but not convincing.

While England are a much greater drawcard, Clarke said other research by the ARU showed more interstate visitors would travel for the intimate experience at the smaller ground than would attend a Test at a larger venue.

AAMI Park has never hosted a Test but the touring British and Irish Lions played against the Rebels there, while it recently was the venue for the A-League grand final and Asian Cup opening ceremony.

“It shows that people will travel when they’re going to get a brilliant experience,” Clarke said.

He said the results would be monitored and, if there was a push for a return to larger venues, they would consider it.

“We will look at it year by year,” he said.

“We will start off with a blockbuster and, assuming that goes well, we’ll then look at 2017 and 2018.”

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