LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - Rugby World Cup organisers have added club side Exeter Chiefs to the list of possible venues for the 2015 tournament in England, helping allay concerns that the showpiece event would be held predominantly in soccer stadiums.
Exeter’s Sandy Park stadium joins a list which includes Wembley, Old Trafford, Newcastle United’s St James’ Park and Leeds United’s Elland Road.
Eighteen venues are now on the list but only one other, Gloucester’s Kingsholm ground, hosts regular club rugby.
Bristol City’s soccer stadium, on the original list, is set to undergo redevelopment which will “prove challenging for the staging of matches in autumn 2015”.
“We are delighted to have been confirmed as one of the possible match venues on the long list for Rugby World Cup 2015,” Exeter chairman and chief Executive Tony Rowe said on the club’s website on Monday.
“We see this as not only a fantastic opportunity to showcase our great club to the world’s rugby fraternity, but also it provides a wonderful opportunity to bring alive not only the city of Exeter, but also our region which we know offers a significant input into the heartbeat of English rugby.”
Exeter’s possible inclusion will be unlikely to placate England’s best-supported club side Leicester Tigers whose 24,000-capacity Welford Road ground was overlooked.
Sandy Park, built at a cost of 15 million pounds in 2006, is one of the country’s most modern rugby stadiums and plans are in place to double the present capacity of 10,000.
England Rugby 2015 chief executive Debbie Jevans, who played a starring role in organising last year’s Olympic Games, said any matches staged at Sandy Park would be right in the heartland of the sport in the country.
“We are very pleased to add Sandy Park to the long list of potential match venues for Rugby World Cup 2015,” she said.
“We want to ensure that Rugby World Cup 2015 is a truly national event, and Sandy Park, located in the rugby heartland of the South West, gives us the option to take the tournament as far and wide as possible.”
Organisers have set an ambitious target of selling 2.9 million tickets for the 48 World Cup matches in September and October 2015 as they try to generate 100 million pounds ($162 million) in profits and that drive for profit was a part of the ground selection criteria.
Jevans said the final list of 12 will be published in a few weeks. (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Justin Palmer)