Rugby supporters heading to Principality Stadium for the NatWest 6 Nations opening round clash between Wales and Scotland on Saturday have been warned they risk missing kick-off if they do not heed warnings to ‘…get in early’ – with gates opening at 11.15am.
New security measures have been in place at the Cardiff capital ground since the conclusion of last year’s tournament and the first rugby games played under strict search and safety procedures – in the autumn – produced some problems as supporters were implored to change their arrival habits.
When Wales faced Australia on the first weekend in November some supporters missed kick-off as increased security slowed access for each individual into the ground.
By the time New Zealand travelled to Cardiff for a capacity occasion a fortnight later Welsh rugby supporters had responded to Principality Stadium pleas in enough numbers to ensure no one missed a pass, kick or tackle, with all fans seated in time for the famous pre-game Haka from the visitors.
But the Scottish game brings a new dimension to the issues experienced in the autumn – a different crowd may not be aware of the need to arrive early and, perhaps most significantly, the game kicks-off at 2.15pm and so represents the first sold-out early afternoon kick-off rugby international under the new restrictions.
Gates now open at Principality Stadium at 11.15am, which is three hours before kick-off – giving double the lead in time to previous Six Nations matches – with event organisers urging supporters:
“The earlier you arrive, the quicker you’ll get in. Gates open at 11.5am… please get in early,” said Principality Stadium manager Mark Williams.
“A classic Wales match will once again be shown as live on the big screens before kick-off to supplement the entertainment available to supporters around the concourses.
“During the autumn series the draw of showing support to the team during their official warm-up was also mutually appreciated by the players and fans alike.
“The sole intent of the enhanced checks is to maintain safety and security for fans attending the stadium, taking into account the current security climate and more specifically UK terror threat levels.”
But Williams also warns channelling 74,500 supporters through turnstiles in three hours, for an early afternoon kick-off, will be the greatest challenge yet.
“To allow for the increased security checks, we have doubled the amount of time that the stadium is open prior to kick-off, from 90 minutes to three hours, and broadcast this message as widely as possible,” said Williams, who was joined by South Wales Police Inspector Phillip Griffiths at a safety and security briefing in the Principality Stadium’s central control room this afternoon.
“We have worked things out to the finest detail, we know we can get everyone in safely and securely and ensure they don’t miss a minute of the game, but we need supporters to help us.
“To make things run smoothly we’d like to process more than 30,000 fans in the first hour-and-a-half of gates opening.
“It’s not something that our rugby supporters will be used to if they didn’t come to a game in the autumn, but the new security measures are here to stay and have been installed in everyone’s interests, so we are appealing to fans for their help.”
The stadium has been operating a strict search policy for all visitors since last Easter and it has successfully hosted a string of major events – from the UEFA Champions League Final, World Heavyweight Title boxing (Joshua v Takam), back-to-back Coldplay concerts, Justin Bieber, Robbie Williams and the British Speedway Grand Prix – with hundreds of thousands of fans passing through turnstiles.
But, with rugby the staple diet at Principality Stadium, the first UA Series match against the Wallabies last November brought new challenges as fans arrived at the ground en masse within 45 minutes of the start – as they have been are used to doing for rugby matches in the past – meaning some missed kick-off.
Williams, who has run Principality Stadium – which is owned and operated by the Welsh Rugby Union – since September 2013 is determined to ensure supporters next weekend learn quickly from their autumn experiences, as they did ahead of the later sold-out All Blacks visit.
“One of the key things for fans to understand is that if you arrive early, the likelihood is that you will get in quicker and, conversely, the later you leave it the longer you may be in a queue and the greater the risk of you missing the anthems or even kick-off,”added Williams.
“Enhanced security has been in place at all events at Principality Stadium since April 2017. The sole intent is enhanced safety and security for fans attending the stadium, taking into account the current security climate and more specifically UK terror threat levels.
“We strongly urge fans to assist us in maintaining a safe and secure stadium by getting in early and leaving large bags and umbrellas at home to avoid unnecessary delays and disappointment.”
Personal searches form only part of the comprehensive measures in place at the stadium, together with safety officers and South Wales Police, all entry points are continually monitored throughout the day.
South Wales Police stress there is no specific threat to Cardiff. Principality Stadium routinely works very closely with the Police and the Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit to deliver appropriate security measures for all major events.