Champions Cup rugby final to be played in Bilbao

NEUCHATEL, Switzerland (AP) Next year’s Champions Cup rugby final will take place in the Spanish city Bilbao.

The 53,289-capacity San Mames Stadium, home of the Athletic Bilbao soccer club, will stage the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals, European Rugby said Monday.

”We are very excited to be taking the best club rugby in the world to fans in what is largely a new market,” European Professional Club Rugby chairman Simon Halliday said. ”Bilbao is an excellent destination which breaks new ground for our tournaments and we see this as a big step in the expansion of our sport across the continent.”

Spain is ranked 18th in the world and has competed only once in the Rugby World Cup in 1999, when it lost all three group games. The country’s national team annually takes part in the European Nations Cup, the highest European rugby championship outside the Six Nations tournament.

There are no Spanish teams competing in either the Champions Cup or the second-tier Challenge Cup, the two top European domestic club competitions. But Bilbao is located in Spain’s Basque country and borders a part of France where rugby thrives.

Spain hosted a big rugby match last year when the French Top 14 final between Racing 92 and Toulon was held at the Nou Camp in Barcelona and attracted a crowd of 90,000.

In addition to awarding the 2018 Champions Cup final to Bilbao, European Rugby chose the English city of Newcastle to stage the 2019 event at St. James’ Park.