|Photo World Rugby|
The consideration of expanding the Rugby World Cup from twenty to twenty-four teams has been suggested in the past but the possibility gained new ground this past week after World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper publicly commented that ''as the sport grows and we conquer new markets the discussion is about looking towards expanding rather than contracting''. A radical move would potentially see four additional places in Rugby World Cups and therefore a need for host nations to have more venues to utilize or risk having too many matches at certain venues to meet demands.
Individual host nations are entitled to have significant impact on the decision as to how many stadiums are utilized for different Rugby World Cups. In Australia 2003 there were eleven stadiums compared to twelve in France 2007 and New Zealand 2011 but thirteen in England 2015.
Of these the most successful was 2007 where ten French stadiums were joined by Cardiff and Edinburgh in the U.K. to complete the total of twelve. France 2007 delivered by having 97% of all match tickets to games in France sold. Such a statistic is far higher than that of all other Rugby World Cups to date.
The secret was preparing well in advance by moving home test matches and carefully dividing the allocation of pool matches so that all cities had either three or four matches each. New Zealand 2011 changed this as cities including Napier, Palmerston North and Whangarei had two matches each. The country also was forced to make late changes following the removal of Christchurch as a venue due to a devastating earthquake in the year of the tournament.
England 2015 has ignored the policy employed by France due to authorities failing to secure hosting rights to English soccer stadiums when required. As such big cities including Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle have secured the same number of matches between them as the Millennium Stadium located in Wales.
Questions remain as to whether the right matches in Wales will be able to all sell-out to justify the use of the non-English venue. Without it, though, it is debatable as to whether or not England could stage the event. An expanded World Cup would therefore be highly complicated in England due to the likely requirement of additional venues.
If England were to have acted to prepare differently by more closely replicating France then the problems would potentially have been less severe or even avoided. France hosted tests in a variety of cities other than Paris prior to Rugby World Cup 2007 while England has used Twickenham exclusively long before and since it secured hosting rights in 2009.
Of the three countries confirmed as bidders for Rugby World Cup 2023 Ireland is likely to face a significant danger due to the comparable use of the Aviva Stadium in Dublin to that of Twickenham by England. Of greater concern still, for Ireland, is the complication of having over twelve stadiums of size and standard to enable a twenty-four team Rugby World Cup to be played on the island.
Expansion would appear to be hurtful to Ireland's campaign. The 1994 FIFA World Cup, for instance, had twenty-four teams playing a total of fifty-two matches, four more than the current number of forty-eight at Rugby World Cups. The pool stage featuring six groups of four was followed by a round of 16, Quarter Finals, Semi Finals and Final. Such a structure would likely be looked at for an expanded Rugby World Cup.
Both Italy and South Africa would benefit at Ireland's expense by having utilized far more stadiums for international duty. The format would see a reduction from forty to thirty-six pool matches and the addition of eight more elimination round matches. They would be able to spread matches in both the pool stage and the round of 16 before compacting Quarter Finals and beyond to three or fewer cities. Ireland, in contrast, would rely far more heavily on lesser cities.
Ireland, therefore would closely follow the 2015 model while South Africa and Italy could more freely choose match venues and have greater access to them. The same is true of Argentina, a country with a detailed record of playing test match rugby throughout the country. In 2014 alone Argentina played in more cities than Ireland has done in it's history dating back to 1875.
Expanding a Rugby World Cup by four teams is not likely to change the strength of the option of having South America host rugby's greatest event for the first time. Argentina's record in hosting big sporting events has provided the country with adequate Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 stadiums and these same venues have had direct involvement in hosting rugby matches.
South Africa is looking to host a second Rugby World Cup while Italy would be competing against a first ever Argentine bid and against Ireland for a fifth Rugby World Cup in Europe. As outlined in the following video Argentina has adequate stadiums to host a Rugby World Cup. Combined with a variety of other factors the Argentine option is compelling.