500 Days to the World Cup: 10 Reasons Why 2015 Will Be Best Tournament Ever
With 500 days to go before the eighth Rugby World Cup gets under way, tickets will soon be on general sale and qualifying is reaching its climax for the lower tier nations still scrapping it out for a place in the tournament.
This is the second time the Webb Ellis Cup has been played for in England. Back in 1991 Will Carling’s men lost to Australia in a nervy final after a tournament that boosted the game’s profile for those few weeks.
Fast-forward to the present day and the sport—and the physiques of those who play it—has changed beyond recognition.
The dawn of professionalism, the injection of TV cash and sponsorship money now sees club matches played in front of 80,000 fans. Cross border tournaments generate millions of pounds and a tournament coming back to England, a country with an impressive CV for hosting major global sports events and a reputation to uphold, means this could be a tournament to remember.
This is a country capable of doing it better than any other. Here is why this will be the best Rugby World Cup ever.
1. £7 Tickets
Kids can watch a game for as little as £7 a ticket in the pool stages.
Seven matches will have tickets available for youngsters at that price, which is encouraging to get more children interested and excited about the sport.
There are some hefty price tags at the other end of the scale, but organisers insist this allows them to price others so low. If the grounds are full for the likes of Georgia v Romania, the strategy will have worked.
2. A Strong Home Side
England are building nicely ahead of their home tournament and a global showpiece is always better with a strong host nation.
Think Argentina in the 1978 football World Cup, Italy in 1990 and Australia in the 2003 rugby tournament.
A country remains gripped in the notion of "World Cup Fever" if their own team progresses to the latter stages, and it makes for a better tournament.
3. An Equitable Match Schedule
The lesser nations have always struggled to be competitive but have not been helped by a schedule that has seen them play with less rest than the big guns.
In 2015 every side in every pool will have an equal mix of gaps between games ranging from four to seven days, which may help level the playing field a little more and make this the most competitive World Cup to date.
One-sided hammerings are an unfortunate byproduct of a sport with such gulfs in talent and resource between nations but at least the fairer rest schedule will help.
4. The Stadiums
Organisers have gone for a mix of traditional rugby grounds like Kingsholm and Sandy Park with a host of football stadiums up and down the country where the capacities outweigh their rugby counterparts and more fans will have the chance to sample World Cup rugby.
The Olympic Stadium will also see some action.
The decision to use more football than rugby grounds did come in for some criticism, but it is a sign of the ambition of the RFU and Rugby World Cup to grow the game's audience and inspire as many people as possible to want to watch and play rugby.
And that has to be applauded.
5. The Pack
During the London 2012 Olympics the army of volunteers known as Gamesmakers became one of the enduring symbols of the summer.
With their distinctive purple uniforms and helpful demeanour, they helped transform the city into a friendlier place for those two weeks.
The Rugby World Cup will have its own version in the shape of The Pack, their 6,000-strong volunteer force, which will be assembled to help visiting fans make the most of their time in the UK.
6. No Fan Segregation
Despite recent reports, organisers will not segregate opposing fans at the tournament.
This means we should get a fantastic atmosphere inside the ground as rival supporters mix in with each other and keep one of the key pillars of rugby’s ethos standing strong
The banter between opposing fans—and the fact the authorities never have to worry about flashpoints occurring—is one of the hallmarks of the sport.
Long may it continue.
7. Classic Matchups Early on
In England’s group alone we will see the hosts go to war with both Wales and Australia, while Ireland and France rekindle their Webb Ellis Cup rivalry from the pool stages.
In Scotland’s pool, Vern Cotter’s team meet both South Africa and Samoa, two sides who scored victories over them last summer.
Only New Zealand have avoided another big hitter in their pool, with Argentina providing the largest speed bump they will face in the first round.
In every other pool, there will be fireworks, which you can’t always say for the group stages.
8. London 2012
The organisers have studied and learned from the roaring success that the 2012 Olympics was in London.
And they are applying as much of that template as possible to the staging of England 2015.
If they can invoke that same sort of feeling across the country, this will be a World Cup to remember.
9. Boris Says It Will Be
The Mayor of London is never far from the spotlight when it comes to major sporting events in his city.
It was the case in the build up to and during the Olympics and he has also made the bold promise that this will be the best rugby tournament held “anywhere, ever.”
So there you have it.
10. It’s Time 1995 Was Eclipsed
The 1995 World Cup still stands head and shoulders above the rest. There was so much in the pot that mixed together to produce a thrilling tournament.
It was South Africa’s entry to World Cup rugby and a new generation of the rugby public was introduced to one of the world’s most passionate rugby nations for the first time.
Then there was the emergence of Jonah Lomu, a player who changed the game forever with his speed and size.
And, of course, it gave the world one of sport's greatest ever iconic moments when Nelson Mandela, donned in the Springbok jersey, handed over the trophy to Francois Pienaar.
Nothing has come close to that tournament since then, so perhaps, 20 years on, it’s time to touch those heady heights again.
There is no Lomu, no Mandela, but there is a crop of exciting young players ready to make their mark in a country well-versed in hosting major events.
The ingredients are in place.