Tuesday, April 30, 2013

England cannot host the Rugby World Cup alone but Argentina can

Photo: Telegraph
The Millennium Stadium set to secure two Quarter Finals while the North misses out
Wales is set to be confirmed as having a central rather than minor or supporting role for Rugby World Cup 2015. Up to eight matches are set to be confirmed for Wales, a number far higher than any host city outside of London which raises an important question over the relevance of calling Rugby World Cup 2015 England 2015. Instead of acting as a junior partner Cardiff is set to complete the coup of coups by being confirmed as the host of two Quarter Finals at Rugby World Cup 2015. The other two are set to be played at Twickenham, the headquarters of the RFU and the same venue that will host both Semi Finals and the Final. 

Plans of England 2015 being a platform to spread the game of rugby across England continue to fade as the initial promise of high profile matches is eroding. The home of Liverpool and Manchester United - Anfield and Old Trafford had both been in the initial plans of hosting Rugby World Cup matches. Both are located in England´s North-West but now both are out of the equation. With no real Plan B the RFU and Rugby World Cup Ltd are instead looking to the largest possible venue which is a venue outside of England. 

The central problem facing the organizers is the use of rugby stadiums in England. Both club and test rugby has not been played at the vast majority of the seventeen venues short-listed last October. The list was changed earlier this year with Exeter´s Sandy Park replacing Bristol´s Ashton Gate. Since then Old Trafford has pulled out which has left London venues as the only ones who regularly host rugby matches. Outisde of Twickenham, Wembley and the Olympic Stadium it is very limited with the only other venue to have hosted a Heineken Cup or Aviva Premiership match this season being Stadium mk in Milton Keynes. The city of Milton Keynes does not have a team in the Aviva Premiership. It is located close to Northampton which does and has a rivalry with the Leicester Tigers. The Leicester City Stadium is set to host matches as is Kingsholm in Gloucester and Sandy Park in Exeter but the remaining venues short-listed do not have teams in this seasons Aviva Premiership. 

Instead the venues are soccer stadiums whose rugby teams are in lower divisions and who never host England test matches. The last time the RFU hosted a test outside of London was in 1998 when England played Rugby World Cup Qualifiers against Tier Three European nations. Since then one test has been at a venue other than Twickenham. It was in 2009 when the UAR moved its first of two home test matches from Buenos Aires to Manchester. Other than that every RFU organized test match since Rugby World Cup 1999 has been at Twickenham. 

It has seemingly paid its part in contributing to the current fiasco which is set to make England 2015 be a shadow of what it could have arguably been. With Old Trafford no longer to be used Cardiff will fill the void due to the status of rugby in England not being what it should have been considering what happened in 2003.  If the best scenario were to eventuate for the RFU and Premiership Rugby then two teams from the North would win promotion to the Aviva Premiership between now and Rugby World Cup 2015. Fortunately the Newcastle Falcons are likely to return to the elite division for the 2013-2014 season. Should Leeds Carnegie subsequently win promotion in 2014-2015 then there would be two more Rugby World Cup 2015 host cities with clubs in the Aviva Premiership. Both St. James Park and Elland Road are big enough to host key matches, including a Quarter Final. Neither, however has any experience in hosting rugby. 

The six other short-listed venues are located in the cities of Birmingham, Brighton, Coventry, Derby, Southampton and Sunderland. Of these Coventry is the most notable from a rugby perspective due to it having previously hosted Heineken Cup play-off´s. The scenario facing the RFU and Rugby World Cup Ltd  is less that there are not sufficient mega-sized venues. Rather it is that the venues are from an unknown market with there being no guarantees. Wales therefore is central to England hosting Rugby World Cup 2015 and despite both Australia and New Zealand being utterly opposed to playing matches in Wales during the tournament they are both now all but certain to do so. 

Wales, meanwhile, gets to not only host matches yet again but is also set to have home advantage in at least two of its matches. It is set to host both remaining Pool A qualifiers of which one of the two is highly likely to be Fiji which is a comparable fixture to that of Wales v Japan from Rugby World Cup 2007 which was played at the Millennium Stadium. A crowd of 35,245 attended the match meaning close to 50,000 tickets were unsold. Cardiff is also likely to host Wales v Play-off winner which is likely to be either Russia or Uruguay which would be a harder match to promote than Japan.

The events unfolding beg the question of England hosting the event at all. It will be England´s third time hosting after it hosted matches in 1991, including the final, and in 1999.  New Zealand with a population of four million hosted alone and did so without its second largest city and stadium following the tragic events of the earthquake of February 2011. Curiously, there have been talks regarding Japan 2019 involving matches subhosted in Hong Kong and / or Singapore. The Southern Hemisphere, in contrast, has hosted four Rugby World Cup´s to date with three of them being hosted by a single nation. New Zealand 2011 was joined by Australia 2003 and South Africa 1995. Argentina 2023 is equal in this regard as the country has the tradition and the means to host on its own. With Los Pumas playing home tests in all of Buenos Aires, La Plata, Mendoza, Resistencia, Rosario and Salta this year the campaign for Argentina to host Rugby World Cup 2023 grows stronger.


  1. The Welsh are quite clever dont you think? Every eight years Wales finds a way to host matches.

    No more World Cups in Britain please.

  2. You do realise that most of the stadiums in England are privately owned by football clubs don't you?
    Not by councils/local governments like in France, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
    So it isn't as easy as you think to just play games all around the country there.
    However they should be putting in more effort no doubt.

    Regarding your query of their ability to sell tickets in non rugby areas.
    I don't think they will have to much trouble to be honest.

    1. Yes, indeed. The ownership question is paramount to the current problems that are seeing Wales enter the picture in place of any, or all of, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sunderland. It could have been avoided had the RFU actively used venues previously.

      There is no firm evidence to suggest that people will turn up in high numbers to RWC matches. With the exception of Greater London no stadiums in England seating 35,000 or more have hosted est rugby, Heineken Cup Rugby or Aviva Premiership rugby since England won the World Cup. All we can do is speculate. But there are certainly no examples to call upon of the masses outside of Greater London attending matches.

    2. There wasn't any firm evidence to suggest that the 2003 Australian world cup games in Tasmania, Adelaide, North Queensland, Western Australia, Country NSW would sell well, but they did.

      40,000+ attended a sumer friendly against Argentina which was Argentina's home game.
      Since this is the world cup (very important point) it will have a bigger pull with the marketing, hype, intensity.

    3. Not entirely true.

      Perth had a stadium seating 42,000 yet was under half capacity for South Africa v Uruguay, Samoa v Uruguay and Samoa v Georgia. South Africa v Uruguay had a crowd of 16,906.

      The highest attended of Japan´s three games in Townsville (against Fiji, Scotland and France) was France with a crowd of 21,309.

      Canberra got 20,515 for Canada v Italy and less for two other games.

      Melbourne had a stadium over over 50,000 but Wales v Canada had 24,874 in attendance.

      Brisbane also had a stadium seating over 50,000 but Fiji v USA had 30,990 and France v Ireland had 33,134.

      Gosford and Wollongong generally did really well as did Sydney and Adelaide. But the others all had problems with the stadiums often being too large but, sometimes, the problem was being overused.

      In regards to Old Trafford the crowd was not small but, at the same time, 30,000 unsold tickets is certainly concerning.

  3. Comparing a Wales vs Fiji fixture to a Wales vs Japan fixture is a mistake I feel. Given Wales' historic difficulties with Pacific Island teams (in and out of RWC's) and the toughness of their pool in general, I'm betting their match against Fiji could be sold out. The last time both teams met in a RWC (France 2007) was the greatest rugby match I've ever seen (alas on TV as I was in Paris for Ireland's awful performance that year).

    Also, while it might be unpopular with Aus and NZ to host games in Cardiff, from a logistical perspective it's not a bad idea. There are good train services for the fans, it's not too far from London or Manchester, Cardiff is a small manageable city with the stadium right in the heart of it and the venue itself is fantastic.

    Can't argue with anything else you've written. I hope Argentina do get to host a RWC and soon.

  4. Umm, the last time the two teams met was in Hamilton in 2011 and Wales won 66-0 (but I get your drift).

    From a NZers perspective, it's not that Millenium Stadium isn't fabulous. It is. But hosting games every 2nd RWC is not exactly great. NZ and Aussie etc go to the Millenium almost every year. It's passe. RWCs should give the opportunity to go to fresh fields in the hosting country. It stretches rugby's credibility when the same place hosts RWC games every second RWC.

    The RFU & ENG2015 made the mistake of not getting venues locked in BEFORE going to Dublin in 2009. NZ2011 CEO Martin Snedden says in his post RWC2011 book that one of the most important things they and the NZRFU did before going to Dublin in 2005 was to make sure the venue situation (outside earthquakes of course) was watertight so that none of what's happened to ENG2015 could happen in 2011. And just remember though NZ didn't have Football clubs owning its potential host venues, the 2003 sub-hosting debacle (which was all about the venues in NZ) was fresh in the memory and NZ had its own issues about getting agreement to use the various grounds.

    I feel for Debbie Jevans. She only came into the CEO role late last year and this farce was not of her making. However the ENG2015 organisation and the RFU leadership that were involved in putting the bid together deserve plenty of criticism.

    I can't but help thinking if Martin Snedden had been involved in the England bid, Man Utd would've had to put pen to paper in before 2009 guaranteeing RWC2015 usage or they wouldn't have been part of the bid in the first place.

  5. The problem that RWC has in England is that there is only one traditional Rugby ground over ~31,000 (Twickenham), most grounds in Rugby heartlands are small, and the big cities where they would want to have this event with the larger grounds have grounds owned by football clubs. Even now, the clubs have told the RWC that the Premier League and Champions League (for those involved in that) will come first, which means that the clubs were never going to sign up until their fixture lists for 2015-16 were known (so much for RWC being the "world's 3rd biggest event"). I guess if the clubs whose groujds are earmarked for RWC get relegated and fail to qulaify for Europe things will work out.