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Welsh rugby chief David Pickering defends Friday opener

Wales play France on a Friday night during the 2010 Six Nations
Wales play France on a Friday night during the 2010 Six Nations

David Pickering insists Wales' ground-breaking Friday night Six Nations opener with England in 2011 is a vital money-spinner to support Welsh rugby.

The Six Nations' first Friday curtain-raiser on 4 February is the third time in three years that Wales have taken part in such an 'experiment.'

"The international game is the main fundraiser for the Welsh Rugby Union to finance the game," said the WRU chief.

"It's why we can give £3.8m to the community game and £17.8 in total."

Pickering is RBS Six Nations and Welsh Rugby Union chairman and insists he had the backing of the whole WRU board - including their North Wales representative.

David Pickering
Pickering captained Wales during his four-year international playing career

But some rugby fans have complained about the inconvenience of internationals on work days, citing travelling to games in time for kick-off as a major difficulty, while Wales captain Ryan Jones has also publicly voiced his displeasure on playing on Fridays.

"I appreciate everybody would not be in favour of the move but I addressed the WRU board and I received their full backing," said Pickering.

"Friday night internationals are part of the schedule now.

"It is a way of progressing rugby and it gets a wider audience, and that is the proof of the experiment."

Wales' 2010 Six Nations Saturday afternoon game on 13 March was watched by 3.4m people in the UK, while Wales' Friday night game with France on 26 February enjoyed viewing figures of 4.6m.

"It also helps us financial buck the trend of recession," added Pickering.

"And it is largely through limited experiments like Friday fixtures that have been so successful that we are able to drive our turnover to over £50m, which is important especially in times of a recession.

"I'm sure people would accept and understand the logic behind it."

The Welsh team, Grand Slam winners in 2005 and 2008, will play only one traditional Saturday afternoon in the 2011 Six Nations.

Wales travel to Italy on Saturday, 26 February at 1430 GMT but Warren Gatland's team play both Scotland at Murrayfield and Ireland in Dublin on Saturday evenings at 1700 GMT.

Wales start their 2011 Six Nations campaign with a 1945 GMT kick-off at the Millennium Stadium on Friday, 4 February and end their Six Nations at 1945 GMT in France on Saturday, 19 March.

Welsh rugby has also continually discussed its commitment to develop rugby in north Wales - especially with the birth of a rugby region based in Colwyn Bay - but some supporters bemoan the move to play on a Friday night

Pickering understands the objections but insists sometimes "the opposite is the same."

"Peredur Jenkins, who has been successful as director in north Wales, is on record in our last meeting saying he and his clubs fully supports the Friday fixture," Pickering told BBC Sport.

"And the opposite is the same as their rugby clubs have fantastic boosts in terms of takings and development of commercial programmes in North Wales due to these matches.

"So when you get ringing endorsements like that, it helps your confidence in the decision making in experimenting on a limited basis.

"We are careful when we're breaking new ground in the Six Nations because we're aware change takes time to get used to.


"We haven't had a Sunday home fixture for five years and we're grateful for that because commercially it is not a good thing for us.

"And there is a lot of resistance from the clubs so we've been lucky as we've avoided with that. We also avoid late Saturday night kick-offs after consultation with the local police.

"So our window is pretty narrow and we are sensitive to our clubs when we put these fixtures together.

"And I don't think the game is ready for outside of weekend and I think that will be a very, very long time before that midweek position will be experimented with."

Six Nations games were traditionally played on Saturdays then latterly Sunday but controversial Friday night fixtures were introduced in 2009.

France hosted Wales in the Six Nations' first Friday fixture in 2009 before the reverse game in Cardiff in 2010.

RBS Six Nations fixture list in full (UK time):

Friday, 4 February:
Wales v England (1945 GMT)

Saturday, 5 February:
Italy v Ireland (1430 GMT), France v Scotland (1700 GMT)

Saturday, 12 February:
England v Italy (1430 GMT), Scotland v Wales (1700 BST)

Sunday, 13 February:
Ireland v France (1500 GMT)

Saturday, 26 February:
Italy v Wales (1430 GMT), England v France (1700 GMT)

Sunday, 27 February:
Scotland v Ireland (1500 GMT)

Saturday, 12 March:
Italy v France (1430 GMT), Wales v Ireland (1700 GMT)

Sunday, 13 March:
England v Scotland (1500 GMT)

Saturday 19 March:
Scotland v Italy (1430 GMT), Ireland v England (1700 GMT), France v Wales (1945 GMT)

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see also
Friday kick-off for Six Nations
14 Apr 10 |  Welsh
Wales 20-26 France
26 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
North Wales rugby plan revealed
28 Aug 09 |  Welsh
Wales host France in Friday clash
02 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
France 21-16 Wales
27 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union
Rugby's Friday night project
26 Feb 09 |  Wales
Wales to face France on a Friday
17 Apr 08 |  Rugby Union
Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh

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