Scotland are continuing their trend of taking international rugby to pastures new. The Autumn Test match against Tonga on Saturday 22 November (kick-off 2.30pm) will be staged at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, home of Kilmarnock FC, it was announced this afternoon.
It will be globally ground-breaking too, as an international involving a Tier One country is held on an entirely artificial pitch for the first time.
As a continuation of Scottish Rugby’s family-friendly ticket pricing, pioneered during our Autumn Tests, up to two children under-12 will be admitted FREE to the game provided they are accompanied by a ticket buying adult.
There will also be group ticket offers where eight under-18s can be accompanied by one adult for £18 and by two adults for £30. There is a separate offer for 12-17 year-olds. Tickets are on sale from Monday afternoon (11 August) from the Scottish Rugby website https://www.eticketing.co.uk/scottishrugby/details/event.aspx?itemref=3738.
Scottish Rugby’s Chief Executive Mark Dodson said: “We are delighted to bring international rugby to Ayrshire for the first time. It’s an area where clubs, schools and local authorities are all working together to provide opportunities for our young people to play rugby.
“We know, from the matches we’ve taken to Aberdeen in the recent past, that international rugby can excite and enthral a whole new audience and as a means of boosting playing numbers it certainly helps the teachers, coaches and volunteers in all they do to encourage participation.
“Rugby Park will become the ninth venue at which Scotland have played international rugby on our own patch. Clearly it’s home to Kilmarnock FC but it was the original home of Kilmarnock Rugby Club, so I suppose you could say that rugby is coming home!”
Scotland head coach Vern Cotter said: “Players and management are looking forward to the Autumn Tests when we’ll face Argentina and New Zealand at BT Murrayfield and Tonga at Kilmarnock.
“We last faced Tonga at Pittodrie in 2012 and that result still hurts! The Rugby Park surface is immaculate and it’s always good to take the game to parts of the country where supporters haven’t always had the chance to see an international match on their own doorstep.”
Kilmarnock FC laid an entirely artificial pitch during the summer and the surface has already passed IRB compliance and safety tests.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “This is an exciting development for rugby at the elite level as it is the first time a Tier One team has played a full international on artificial turf.
“In recent years, the quality of turf has come a long way. The IRB and its member unions, such as the SRU, have been at the forefront of that progress.
“The great advantage of artificial turf is that it can provide a consistent and low-maintenance alternative to natural pitches.
“This is especially useful in parts of the world where growing and maintaining a high-quality grass surface is not straightforward. I would like to congratulate the SRU for this initiative and I wish this fixture every success.”
Kilmarnock Football Club Chairman, Michael Johnston, said: "Everyone at the club is delighted that Scottish Rugby has chosen Rugby Park to host this prestigious occasion.
“Our new synthetic pitch was installed with this sort of event in mind, as it is fully compliant with International Rugby Board specifications.
“It's fitting that rugby union is returning to Rugby Park and we have our sponsors, Billy Bowie Special Projects, to thank for funding the creation of a top quality, multi-use sports surface. This match will create a lot of interest and we can't wait to welcome rugby supporters from all over Scotland."
Mark Bennett, a product of the Cumnock and Ayr clubs, and one of the stand-out performers for both Glasgow Warriors and Scotland 7s over the last few months, was part of Scotland’s squad during last year’s Autumn Tests.
He said: “It’s brilliant to hear that international rugby will be coming to Ayrshire, where I’ve grown up and come through the club system.
“I’ve seen over the last few years that rugby in the county is growing in popularity and the standard is rising and this is a fitting reward for all the hard work that the rugby community does.”
Scotland’s Autumn Test programme begins at BT Murrayfield against Argentina on Saturday 8 November and is followed on Saturday 15 November with the visit of New Zealand. Both these Tests will kick-off at 5.30pm and tickets (including a pass for both games) are available now from this website.
Our picture shows Mark Bennett, Alasdair Dickinson and Matt Scott with youngsters from Kilmarnock RFC at Rugby Park today.