With the dust beginning to settle on the Six Nations, and every rugby fan and his dog having an opinion as to the make-up of their national side, it’s probably an appropriate time to take a stock-check as to what has been happening off the pitch World Cup-wise.
Tickets: There was never likely to be a problem selling the vast majority of tickets for Britain’s biggest sporting event since the 2012 Olympics. In September’s ballot there were more than five million applications for the 950,000 which were ultimately snapped up, easily a Rugby World Cup record.
There were 650,000 applications for England’s Pool A clash with Australia, and 500,000 for the Twickenham final. However, other matches and venues have proved a much harder sell, particularly those in Leicester, a stronghold of English rugby, which has not responded well to Welford Road being snubbed as a venue or the quality of the three matches it has been offered. Tickets for all three matches at the King Power Stadium are still available, including some for £35 for Canada against Romania.
Doubt has also been cast on the wisdom of allowing Wales to virtually co-host the tournament, with half of the eight games at the Millennium Stadium still unsold, including Wales v Uruguay. France v Italy at Twickenham, Ireland v Romania at Wembley, and Samoa v Scotland at St. James’ Park also still boast availability.
Tens if not hundreds of thousands of tickets for other matches will also come online from the end of March through hand-backs from sponsors, and via the official face-value resale platform.
There is also the secondary market, although exploiting that avenue breaches ticketing terms and conditions and stadiums reserve the right to turn away anyone in possession of such a ticket. One for the final was recently available on a secondary site for £59,000 – more than 80 times face value.
Transport and Security: Ensuring the safety of those attending matches is the top priority of any tournament organiser. The Olympics proved Britain could manage that in an era of international terrorism, although World Cup chiefs will be determined to avoid a repeat of the security debacle which led to the armed forces being called in as cover pre-Games.
Security of organisers’ transport plans has focussed largely on Twickenham, where most of the group games will kick off at 8pm-an unusual time for a Test match there. Getting people to and from the stadium quickly has not been helped by legal challenges to plans to revamp Twickenham station, which will not be complete before the tournament.
However, getting home via rail has been made far easier during the past year; while there will be increased capacity to and from the station on World Cup match days. There will also be a post-match bus service into Waterloo direct from the stadium.
One of the biggest fusses was caused by the commandeering of car parks around the ground for hospitality tents, spelling the end of car-boot picnics next to the West Stand. There will instead be park-and-ride services from Whitton and Kempton Park. The A316 near the stadium will be partially closed on match days to allow for improved access.
National Engagement: World Rugby’s demand of an £80million fee for the right to stage the tournament meant organizers had no choice but to snub several traditional rugby grounds in favour of large-capacity football stadiums to generate the necessary revenue. It has also made for a southern-centric and London-centric event, with Twickenham, the Millennium Stadium, Wembley and the Olympic Stadium hosting more than half of the 48 matches between them.
Old Trafford pulling out of staging games hardly helped organisers fulfil their commitment to take the World Cup beyond its traditional heartlands. Only one match will be played in the north-West (England v Uruguay at the Etihad Stadium) with just five more at St James’ Park and Elland Road.
Fan zones will therefore be crucial in making people feel they are a key part of a nationwide festival of rugby. Visiting teams can also help enthuse communities in which they are based. Organisers are no doubt hoping the Trophy Tour, the UK leg of which begins on June 10, has the same galvanising effect on the country as the 2012 Torch Relay. The Webb Ellis Cup will travel the length and breadth of Great Britain ahead of the September 18 kick-off.
However, unlike the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup will have to compete with Premier League and Champions League football for attention.
Legacy: The Olympics proved that simply putting on a major event was no guarantee of a sporting legacy and the Rugby Football Union has even less excuse for failing to capitalise on the tournament to get more people playing, coaching and officiating. Concrete plans have long been in place and pre-tournament targets appear to be being met.
But getting those spectators who are experiencing the sport for the first time to stick with it will be another major challenge, particularly as many of those who have bought tickets would be classed as novices.
Rugby’s rules can be impenetrable even for the initiated but understanding the difference between “offside” and “going in from the side”, and even why these are offences is certain to bamboozle those trying to make sense of a game with a plethora of arcane rules and practices. Yet care must be taken not to insult the intelligence of those steeped in the game by going overboard in explaining the sport’s every nuance.