Coming to a town near you - or maybe not
Graham Jenkins at Twickenham
May 2, 2013
England Rugby 2015 ambassador Lawrence Dallaglio reacts to the venue announcement%]
"Today is the day the tournament comes to life," declared International Rugby Board chairman Bernard Lapasset as he welcomed the confirmation of the venues and match schedule for the Rugby World Cup 2015.
The 2015 World Cup grounds
If you live in the south of England you may share Lapasset's enthusiasm with 16 of the 48 matches scheduled for London - either at Twickenham, the Olympic Stadium or Wembley - with a further eight games in Wales at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Add in the supporting roles played by the Brighton Community Stadium, Gloucester's Kingsholm and Exeter's Sandy Park and you begin to fear whether this tournament will engage the nation as it is hoped.
"We have taken the game to the whole country," insisted Debbie Jevans, chief executive of organisers England Rugby 2015 (ER 2015), but the schedule of which she is proud will see just 11 games staged north of the M25 - not quite the geographic spread that was promised.
Jevans insisted that their choice of venues ensures "92% of the population will be within 50 miles of a World Cup venue" - a PR-friendly soundbite that disguises the imbalance between the south and north and one that doesn't reflect the fact that Manchester will have only one game to showcase while Leeds gets two and Newcastle three.
Given the footprint of the tournament, ER 2015 and the Rugby Football Union may struggle to engage the nation as they hope to do so in the years leading up to the tournament and beyond, but they cannot be faulted for their sales pitch that was accompanied by 'rugby legend' and ambassador Lawrence Dallaglio and the obligatory emotion-stirring video montage.
"Our vision is a celebration of rugby and its unique values, inspiring our nation and the world to play and support the game," enthused Jevans, who dreams of an event that hypnotises the nation like the epic sporting events that have preceded it.
"We want England to feel like a rugby nation in 2015," she added. "When you think 1966 you think of the football World Cup, 2012 the Olympics and Paralympic Games - we want 2015 to be remembered as a rugby year, the year of the Rugby World Cup, and create a generation of rugby heroes and rugby role models."
To this end they have devised a five-point plan to ensure the tournament is more than a match for any that has been staged before. And should they succeed, it may well be the first time that the one of the sport's more ugly elements has attracted new fans.
S - "Our spectator experience must be excellent in every single way," said Jevans. "We want full and vibrant venues and a fantastic festival of rugby."
C - "We want to connect with our audience," detailed Jevans, "deepen the existing connections with existing fans, renew the connection with occasional fans and make new connections with new fans."
R - "Our tournament will have rugby at its heart," she said. "We need to get conditions right so players can perform at their absolute best and shine and create sporting excitement."
U - "We want to create unforgettable memories that last a lifetime and can be captured by the digital age and on TV."
M - "The tournament must be more than just six weeks of sport," Jevans concluded. "The IRB and RFU have planned a legacy that will go beyond tournament."
How big is the World Cup?
Among the sport's powerbrokers present for the announcement was RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie. He dismissed concerns regarding the ability of the world's richest union to meet the £80m hosting fee and instead reinforced the desire to ensure the tournament has a lasting impact - well beyond the finale at Twickenham on October 31, 2015.
"The most important thing is for us to inspire people to play rugby, to seek out opportunities in the lead up to, during and after the event," he said. "We're comfortable about the financial side of things but the financials are subordinate to the legacy for rugby in this country."
The ability of Ritchie and co to leverage this tournament depends largely on a successful England side and this schedule appears to offer them every opportunity to excel. IRB chief executive Brett Gosper may well have seen fit to hail the 'fairest ever' schedule that means some of the leading nations accept the short turnarounds between games but England are not one of them.
Stuart Lancaster's side, who are set to play three of their four pool games on home soil at Twickenham, will have eight days between their opener and their crunch clash with Wales - two days more than their Six Nations rivals will have to prepare due to the scheduling of their first clash.
England will then have a week to ready themselves for Australia's visit to HQ with the Wallabies having been granted one day less to lick their wounds. And if you are concerned that the decision to take England on the road - to Manchester City Stadium - for their final pool clash is asking for trouble, spare a thought for their opponents - a guaranteed minnow who is yet to qualify - who will have just four days to prepare for the game.
Twickenham may well play a central role in proceedings but by no means will it have a monopoly on enticing fixtures. New Zealand's clash with Argentina at Wembley looms as a potential classic while Sandy Park and Kingsholm, the only two traditional club rugby grounds being used, are sure to provide an equally-enthralling matchday experience.
But it is a re-vamped Olympic Stadium - that will feature a newly-installed roof - that will arguably have the greatest appeal with the venue set to play host to four pool games and the Bronze final. The extent to which those turnstiles spin will be dependent on the cost of tickets with the pricing policy set to be finalised in the coming months.
That strategy will be equally pivotal in engaging fans old and new - just ask European Rugby Cup - and if they come good with their pledge to offer tickets for as little as £7 then this tournament will really come to life for the masses.
The Webb Ellis Trophy match balls representing the 2015 Rugby World Cup venues © onEdition
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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