The World Cup Legacy?

Across the land’s rugby clubs, pubs, bars and front rooms, more than 11 million people watched England’s dramatic defeat by Wales on television. Virtually the same number tuned in for the decisive loss to Australia a week later.

A large percentage of these millions will have been uninitiated in rugby union, but in search of a new sport to enjoy and fresh heroes to follow. But how many will come back? How many will find themselves hooked on the domestic game? The Aviva Premiership kicked off last weekend but unless you were already a rugby aficionado you could be excused for not noticing, such was the volume of media coverage still being given to the England-less World Cup.

Much has been written about the legacy from this World Cup, but “legacy” is a slippery word. And how do you deliver a “legacy” from the worst ever tournament by a host country? “What’s a legacy?” asked Leicester Tigers director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. “The game’s growing all the time and the Premiership’s a great competition. I don’t think it’s going to damage the game. Will it have grown a bit bigger if we’d got to a semi-final or a final and left as heroes instead of having those disappointing performances? Of course.”

Even so, it would take a brave person to argue that the 2015 World Cup will be a success for English rugby, but Steve Grainger, the RFU rugby development officer, is that man. He could point up to the 2,000 people signed up in fan zones to become referees or coaches, a quarter of those at the Manchester fan zone during the England-Uruguay dead rubber. This level of enthusiasm could also point to the untapped enthusiasm for rugby union outside the game’s southern heartlands, and the need to take England “on the road” away from Twickenham.

And since October 2012 the RFU has trained 2,915 new level-two coaches through the QBE Coaching Club, recruited 1,200 young rugby ambassadors and introduced rugby to 400 state secondary schools. But the test must be whether those who have picked up a rugby ball or entered a clubhouse for the first time because of this World Cup are still involved in the game by the time Japan 2019 rolls round.

Putting England’s failure to one side, any kid watching New Zealand or Australia or Japan could not wish for a better illustration of how rugby union, at its best, should be played. But across the mini-rugby pitches of the British Isles will seven year-olds be practising their Nehe Milner-Skudder sidesteps  and asking for posters of Juan Imhoff for their bedroom walls? Probably not. But what they do need is more encouragement to run and pass, rather than thud and smash and blunder.

Australia booked their place in the semi-finals in the most dramatic fashion but a thrilling contest was overshadowed  by a controversial finale and a debate that highlighted one of the sport’s problems, and the immense barrier preventing rugby union from becoming a truly global sport. The Laws are just too damm complicated! The Laws surely need to be simplified to avoid such confusion and allow the casual “legacy” supporter to engage fully with the sport rather than alienate them.

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.

Mike Miles

www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

Japan 26 Samoa 6

France had played Canada in an earlier World Cup game at Stadium MK. The report in The Times included a verdict on the venue. Heritage was “non-existent”, atmosphere was “manufactured but manic, with the full house determined to enjoy a big night out.” Crowd knowledge was “good enough, with a mixture of polite applause and the inevitable Mexican Waves.”Perhaps the prejudice against MK Dons,aka Franchise FC extends beyond the confines of SW9!

The Guardian also had a reporter snooping around the crowd. She pointed out that “if the rugby didn’t hold their attention, they could always cross the road to the multiplex, and there was plenty of shopping nearby.”

She considered Milton Keynes “the perfect locale for witness protection, if the number of people who admit to living there is anything to go by”

Sorry to disappoint her, but we have friends who have lived in Milton Keynes for years, and who were kind enough to offer my wife and I a lift to and from the stadium, so that we forsook the pleasure of the fan-buses or forking out £15 for a park-and-ride site.

And once you get into the stadium it is a delight. Chatting with other fans, most of whom were attending their first game at the ground, they were equally impressed, commenting on the comfort and legroom in the seating. The seats were high-backed and padded, similar to those at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. We were seated in the South Stand, behind one set of posts, where the biggest danger came from flying balls. There was even praise for the toilets, offering wide entrances, space, and hot running water. Such luxuries at a football ground!

After their exploits against South Africa there was no doubt that Japan were the crowd favourites. And this time they had had sufficient recovery time after their loss to Scotland. And once again they showed they are no longer fodder for the big guns, but a team who can bring legitimacy to rugby union’s claim to be a world sport. This match was all about their skill and endeavour.

The match was settled in a first half in which Japan produced a near-flawless performance to lead by 20 points. That left the second half as essentially an exercise in holding their gains, which they did comfortably.

As for Samoa, they were second best throughout, often losing discipline. Three men were yellow-carded.

Incidentally, the attendance of 29,019 was a record for the stadium for any sport.

Japan host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, and after what was to befall the current hosts later that evening, should hopefully put up a better fight.

Current coach Eddie Jones is leaving after this World Cup. Just so long as they don’t employ Stuart Lancaster in his stead. Though Japan’s forwards coach, one ex-England captain Steve Borthwick, must be a candidate for any future England set-up.

One whinge. The match programme cost £10. A fair amount of editorial, but given that this was Match No 24, it contained not a jot about the previous 23 matches. No results, no table of points or try scorers and no tables for the four pools. It’s called information and in that respect the customer forking out his £10 is being short-changed.

It can be done. Wimbledon charges a similar amount for its programme, but it manages to contain a full statistical coverage up to the previous day’s play.

Mike Miles

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

www.scrumdown.org.uk

The Rugby World Cup – 10 Days on

Sitting in our seats in Wembley Stadium with a beer in hand is a somewhat unusual experience for me.  Ninety five percent of my previous visits here have been for football, where fans are considered far too irresponsible to handle a beer AND watch a game at the same time.  The fact that the stadium hadn’t seen a crowd of this size, ever didn’t cause an issue.  Have you actually seen England play recently? You need some sustenance to numb some of the dullness.  But swap your Engerland chant for a  verse of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and you gain a level of social acceptability and responsibility.  Four beers sir? Do you need a hand carrying them to your seats?

21574136478_0ac713e43f_kThis was game three for me in the Rugby World Cup.  Ireland taking on “plucky” Romania as they had been rechristened by ITV Sport after their opening game defeat to France in the White Elephant in Stratford.  I’d seen that game as well as France’s first game at Twickenham against Italy.  The atmosphere here at Wembley was different, far more partisan.  Twickenham and the Olympic Stadium had been mainly full of fans of the game, some of whom felt the need to show their neutrality by having face paint of each country on their cheeks to go along with their half ‘n’ half scarves. Here though the stadium was awash of green.  There would little in the way of cheer for a similar quarter performance as Romania gave on Wednesday against France.

21050901204_2e91adcfc3_kThe tournament was only 9 days old but had already thrown up a few surprises and talking points on and off the field.  Japan’s defeat of South Africa was a major shock – although if the Springboks would have lost to say Argentina, who in turn would have lost to Japan it may have raised a Roger Moore eyebrow. Shocks in international rugby are few and far between.  The stronger teams are just that – stronger. Power and pace go along way in rugby.  Japan’s players played the game on their lives, matching South Africa in every push, scrum, maul and ruck.  The longer the game went on, the more belief the Japanese had and the more doubt crept into the Springboks.  They could play that game 50 more times and I doubt the Japanese would find the same resolve and spirit.

The result that the organisers probably didn’t want came last night when Wales beat England by 3 points, meaning the hosts have to beat Australia next Saturday to have any chance of progressing to the knock out phases.  Defeat in that game and the final match against Uruguay could be for the wooden spoon in group A.  With tickets still on sale for that match at The City of Manchester Stadium at a bargain £250, it will be interesting to see how many fans put their seats up for resale rather than go through the misery of trying to get to the game by a hopelessly I’ll-prepared train network.

The pain and problems they have caused at virtually every game so far it’s something that the organisers want as a legacy but so far fans who have tried to travel by train have been met with delays, cancellations and ill-preparation.  On the opening weekend of the tournament as fans tried to travel to Cardiff for the Wales and Ireland games will have been dismayed to read First Great Western admit they had underestimated demand for services.  They’ve only had four years to plan for this.  Over at Twickenham last Saturday tens of thousand of fans on their way back to London after the game were forced to ‘tap in’ with their Oyster cards via 2 machines.  Last night’s game at Twickenham finished after the last train had departed Paddington for Wales – either poor planning from the organisers or FWG again for not thinking of putting on extra services.

21560445961_617be24bf4_kIt’s never a good thing for a host nation to be eliminated early from a major tournament, but with such high expectations on England it could be a major blow for ITV as well as the commercial partners.  The curious rugby fans sitting on their sofa may now channel surf instead of tuning in for England’s games.  That’s not taking anything away from Wales – they’ve shown in recent years they are a major force in World rugby and few English fans will admit they didn’t want them to win four years ago in the Rugby World Cup semi-final in New Zealand against France.

Talking on ITV, they have got the coverage so far spot on – a huge improvement on their football coverage.  Co-commentators who deliver insight rather than simply saying what we see. Studio guests who can be considered to be legends of the game, with presenters who realise their role is to not try to be the star of the show.  Andy Townsend or Jonny Wilkinson? Glenn Hoddle or Sir Clive Woodward? Lee Dixon or Lawrence Dallaglio? Need I go on?

On the field we’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of the use of video evidence.  In the England v Fiji and France v Italy games tries were disallowed after the referee had awarded them and the conversation was about to take place thanks to use of the Television Match Official (TMO) who found a new angle to review the incident.  They break up the flow of the game, although English referee Wayne Barnes showed how to use it to great effect by asking for reviews of events he didn’t see whilst play continued in the New Zealand v Argentina game, then punishing the guilty parties.  There can be no argument that the way technology is used in rugby is far better than football. Referees with microphones so the crowd can hear conversations, video replays and even having equally-qualified as the referee touch judges who advise on decisions rather than stand powerless on the touchline.

21573993340_17915cb76b_kUnlike football, rugby is a game that all of the Fuller family enjoy.  Littlest Fuller (in age not height anymore!) can’t stand football but things nothing of watching grown men falling on top of each other.  So we parked at Stanmore and headed down to Wembley early doors to savour the atmosphere.  Despite arriving two hours before kick off, the fan zone was full.  Only open to ticket holders you’d think that they may have thought people might want to go in there.  Surely the organisers spoke to organisers of other events?  At the Olympics, the fan zones were open to everyone, ditto any major football tournament.  In both cases they certainly didn’t kick people out thirty minutes before kick off.  So much for an all-inclusive tournament.  Once again, little thought had gone into the demand for these aspects.

Once inside the stadium everything worked.  Wembley handles crowds very well and we were in our seats twenty minutes before the teams emerged.  We’d been promised a brilliant atmosphere – it was certainly loud but there was only a few chorus’s of Fields of Athenry as pockets of the Irish faithful were spread across the whole stadium rather than one concentrated area of dedicated support that you would see in the respective football tournament(s).  The biggest cheers were saved for the Mexican Wave, which at least didn’t appear until the hour mark.

Ireland showed no mercy from the first second.  The first passage of play lasted 3 minutes and seemed destined to end in a try but for a handling error.  Two TMO decisions proved the majority of the crowd wrong with Simon Zebo’s skip down the touchline showing in super-slow motion that his twinkle-toes had just touched the white line on his way to scoring a great solo effort, whilst Tommy Bowe’s collision with the touch flag proving to be after he’d touched the ball down rather than before for the first of his two tries.  Further tries from Earls (2), Kearney and Henry saw the Irish quickly rack up their bonus point on their way to 44 points, although Ovidiu Toniti’s late consolation try for Romania bringing a decent response from the majority of the crowd still in the stadium.

Despite the issues at other venues, the benefit of experience in handling big crowds was in evident as the tens of thousands of fans headed to Wembley Park tube station, being back in the car at Stanmore less than 30 minutes of the final whistle.

The tournament so far has thrown up a few surprises that may lead to one or two of the expected sides not reaching the knockout stages.  But that’s exactly what we want from a major tournament, even if it is the hosts who are the casualties.

 

RWC – France v Romania

Like most people my last visit to the Olympic Stadium had been to watch athletics at the 2012 Olympics. So when it was announced that a number of matches in this year’s Rugby World Cup would be played in “The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park”, to give it its full moniker, that had to be a venue worth going to. Factor in that I am a West Ham United supporter, and that in less than 12 twelve months they will be strutting around that same arena, well you had to see what it promises!

At a test event at the end of August featuring the Barbarians and Samoa the game descended into farce when the sprinklers came on and soaked the players during a break in play-more soggy Saturday than Super Saturday. And my infrequent visits to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium I was left with the impression of a magnificent ground but a misery to get to and an even bigger misery to get away from unless you are prepared to miss the last 20 minutes…something Arsenal supporters look willing to do.

The game kicked off at 8.00 so the tubes and Stratford Station were a mix of rugby fans, commuters and shoppers. The tournament organisers had copied the Olympic idea of “helpers” to direct fans but these were keeping a pretty low profile around the station and Westfields shopping centre in favour of massing around the stadium precincts, when it was pretty bloody obvious where you were going. So I adopted the time-honoured principle of following other fans. This route took me past the West Ham office selling the move, but was devoid of customers. Perhaps potential punters were checking out the stadium for real.

21050901204_2e91adcfc3_kAvoid the inevitable late rush and entry is easy, the concourses are spacious, and finding your seat straightforward enough. I had paid £35 for a Category C seat, in the corner but high enough to follow all the action. The stadium also has two large screens at either end, and I hope these are retained when West Ham move in.

Rather like after the Olympics, there has been much talk of the legacy from this tournament, and it had been marketed to the non-rugby following fan as somewhere to bring the family. In front of me was a family with two young boys who clearly found the games on their i-pad a bigger attraction to what was happening on the pitch. If I’m honest I couldn’t blame them. The match took a long time to get going. I timed the first Mexican wave at 12 mins 30 sec.

The organisers are already boasting of how virtually every game has sold out. Certainly, the touts were out in force this evening. But you do wonder if much as the British like to attend such high profile sporting events (and this World Cup has been billed as the world’s 3rd largest sports event after the Olympics and its football equivalent) that is as far as their commitment will go.

My wife came with me. Paradoxically she hates crowds, and would only come on condition we left early. So as we walked back to Stratford Station 20 minutes before full-time, along a completely different route to that which we’d been directed before.

I hope West Ham attract 54,000 people on a regular basis. But if that means an hour afterwards being funnelled into Stratford station a lot of the gloss will disappear.

The referee was Jaco Peyper, who took charge of England’s opening game against Fiji, when one of the main talking points afterwards was the number of times he went to the TMO, and how long it took for a decision.

21662164952_671f44788d_kIt was only 3-3 after 30 minutes, and by then, the TMO had ruled out a Romania try. Thankfully, the TMO could take the rest of the night off. Then it all unravelled for the Romanians.Paulica Ion was sent to the sin bin, and in his absence the French scored two tries. Both were converted by Parra from the touchline, and suddenly the French were 17-3 up and free from the burden of possible humiliation.

Romania kept France out for 25 minutes of the second half, before they let in three more tries. But by then I was already on the way home. Those who stayed were clearly treated to an enjoyably harum-scarum final quarter.

The papers had their own verdicts on The Olympic Stadium: According to The Times it was:

-Noisy at times, cathedral-like at others

-Fair to say this was not a West Ham United Crowd (?)

The Guardian had even sent a reporter to report on the stadium. According to Owen Gibson “At last it was possible to get a tingling sense of how it might crackle on a big Premier League night or, in Karren Brady’s dreams, for big European matches.”

“Those expensive retractable seats-which Brady had pushed so hard for-had been rolled forward on three sides, creating odd platforms behind the lower tier. It remains a vast bowl, in many ways the polar opposite of Upton Park.”

“When the anthems rang out before kick-off, or when the French supporters tried to urge their players over the try-line, the noise had a tendency to drift into the night air. I was left with the impression that West Ham fans will have to go some to create an atmosphere opposing teams will find intimidating”.

But at least we Hammers fans can hope our team will deliver a better spectacle than this match.

Mike Miles

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

Oh to live in Twickenham, now that the World Cup is coming

Local estate agents no doubt market the south-west London suburb of Twickenham as a desirable (and expensive!) place to live. It’s a fair bet that they do not dwell on the downside from the presence of the local national rugby stadium.

It could be every resident’s nightmare: inebriated rugby fans vomiting or urinating on the streets or into your front garden after the match. Yet this is what lies in store for Twickenham residents when the Rugby World Cup gets underway in a month’s time, with 10 of the 48 matches taking place in TW1.

Richmond council had a stab at sorting out the problem when England beat France in a warmup match on August 15. Pubs were effectively encouraged to close early, at 10pm, but the decision pleased neither publicans nor long-suffering residents who already have to put up with road diversions and rubbish-strewn streets on match days.

Now imagine you wanted to create the nation’s biggest traffic jam – apart from the M25 in rush hour. First of all you would pick a Friday evening in London during term-time and then shut one of the main arterial routes out of the capital. Say by shutting the main A316 dual carriageway linking central London with the M3 and M25 from 5pm to midnight. Then you would schedule a globally significant sporting fixture to be played in that same postcode. Then you would sit back and await the inevitable transport carnage.

So when it was announced that England would kick-off the tournament at 8pm on a Friday night at Twickenham it was not only the already put-upon local residents who took a deep breath.

If there is gridlock from south-west London to the M25 and beyond, any feel good factor surrounding rugby union’s showpiece event will soon evaporate. It could be a few long nights for anyone idly driving up to town for a quiet meal.

And if transport and ill-mannered fans weren’t posing enough problems, the home of English rugby is apparently encased in a “stinking cloud” from a nearly sewage works-prompting locals to rename Twickenham Stadium as “Stinkehham.”The sewage plant is just 0.3 miles from the stadium, and there were reports during the England-France game of a “bit of a whiff”

So the moral for anyone with a ticket for a game at Twickenham must be leave very early for the stadium and hold your nose-and hope the rugby makes it all worth it……

Mike Miles

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

Will Europe suffer World Cup hangover?

Among all the coverage of the forthcoming World Cup it would have been easy to miss the announcement last week of the fixtures for next season’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

Because of the World Cup the competition doesn’t start until mid-November, but there are some exciting matches in prospect. There is the inevitable “Group of Death”, Pool 5, involving a previous Heineken Cup winning quartet of Leinster, Wasps, Toulon and Bath.

But there must be a question mark over how big the World Cup hangover will be, and which of the European Champions Cup contenders will be hit hardest. The answer to this will play a huge part in determining which of Toulon’s rivals will stand the best chance of prising their hands off the trophy.

Saracens are easily the Premiership’s leading lights after reaching a final and two semi-finals in the last three years. They start their hoped-for route to Lyon with a tie against fading French giants Toulouse at Allianz Park.

Their rugby director Mark McCall reflected on the competition. “ The different slant to this season is that the World Cup final will be played two weeks before the first game, and we don’t know who will be in the final – but if England were to get into the final we don’t know how our players will be coming back into the club with Toulouse just two weeks away.”

The reality is that if England, France, Ireland, Wales or Scotland reach the World Cup last four, or even the quarter finals, the sizeable international contingents of clubs like Saracens, Bath, Toulouse and Leinster could be severely compromised. Injuries, fatigue, as well as factors like loss of form all come into the post-World Cup equation.

It suggests that clubs with strong squads which are not heavily hit by international calls could thrive in the coming campaign, because, ironically, the revised format introduced a year ago, means any side that does not hit the ground running puts its quarter-final prospects in danger.

Mike Miles

www.scrumdown.org.uk

Why has Leicester fallen out of love with the World Cup?

It is arguably the biggest rugby city in England, boasting the country’s biggest team, biggest club stadium and biggest trophy cabinet.

If there is one place where the Rugby World Cup should be biggest this autumn, it is Leicester. And yet, two months before the start of the second largest sporting event Britain has staged in recent years, one of rugby’s traditional heartlands is proving to be the tournament’s greatest headache.

Leicester remains the only place at which none of its allotted games have sold out. All three matches still have tickets available. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the city is threatening single-handedly to prevent World Cup organisers reaching their target of selling out the entire tournament.

Perhaps the answer lies in where the games are being held. Despite hosting games at both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, and being among the venues submitted in England’s 2015 bid in 2009, the home of Leicester Tigers was suddenly branded unsuitable by the tournament’s evaluation committee. Instead, the King Power, or as the organisers insist on calling it, the Leicester City Stadium, was chosen. And to rub salt in the Tigers’ wound, it lies only a hefty kick away from Welford Road.

The outcry was immediate. “The mildest description is outrage,” said Tigers chief executive Simon Cohen.”We thought it was absolutely disgraceful that Welford Road, which is a hotbed of English rugby, wasn’t going to feature in an English World Cup”.

Attempts to overturn the decision –which even included local MP Jon Ashworth raising the matter in Parliament, and petitioning from the region’s chief constable, bishop and both its vice-chancellors – proved futile.

World Rugby, the governing body, stood by a recent tightening of its regulations, which meant Leicester’s pitch, was deemed two metres too narrow, with the ground also found not to meet minimum requirements on changing rooms, anti-doping, and broadcast and media facilities.

Tigers supporters might have expected to be appeased with some plum World Cup ties at affordable prices, but those hopes were crushed when they were handed three of the less attractive fixtures: Argentina v Tonga, Canada v Romania and Argentina v Namibia. With tickets costing anything up to £150, it was seen as another slap in the face for the city.

All this has even prompted what might be considered an attempt to hijack the tournament by the club, who have decided to erect an unofficial fan zone at Welford Road to show World Cup matches  – including the two Argentinean matches at the King Power Stadium. There were rumours that World Rugby could try to block the Tigers erecting their own fanzone, although that would risk alienating further a rugby community they desperately want to win round.

Mike Miles

www.scrumdown.org.uk

The World Cup countdown starts here..

World Cup Round Up

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 organisers 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.

Mike Miles

www.scrumdown.org.uk