For London 2012 guides, there is now a definite sense of deja vu about Twickenham Stadium. Hospitality suites? Media centres? Opening ceremonies? Closing ceremonies? 18 September sees the opening game at Twickenham of the 8th Rugby World Cup when England takes on Fiji.
Prince Harry and England rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson with the Webb Ellis Cup at the start of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour at Twickenham Stadium on 100 days to go. Photo: © David Davies/Press Association for England Rugby 2015.
Vast Twickenham – at 83,000 seats the largest rugby dedicated venue in the world – will be the epi-centre of the 4th largest global group sporting festival after the Olympics, footie world cup and international athletics. The last time England hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1991 was jointly with Wales, when England ran in runners-up to the Ozzies. Many things have changed since then – the game became professional in 1997, and in 2003 England became the first northern hemisphere side to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy, finally seeing off the southern hemisphere juggernauts, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
Now there are 20 teams competing at 48 matches across 13 venues around the country – including football grounds and Stratford’s Olympic stadium – with the final at Twickenham on 31 October. The Rugby Football Union has had to promise World Rugby in Dublin £100m for the privilege of staging the Rugby World Cup, money that Dublin will use to promote the game in Asia and the Pacific. The price of the best seat in the house for the final? £750.
Webb Ellis Cup and rugby balls with country flags for participating nations. Photo: ©David Davies/Press Association for England Rugby 2015.
Another thing that has occurred since 1991 is the debacle of 2011, when England’s hopes sank into Auckland harbour. The new coach is Stuart Lancaster from Leeds, a great admirer of the rugby culture of world champs New Zealand (who wouldn’t be?). There, team members are regarded as national treasures and the national coach has precedence over club coaches and can order players rested, unlike here. In the past three years Lancaster has rebuilt the England squad as one of the world’s youngest. Lancaster has also rigorously enforced team discipline and covered the Twickenham changing rooms with England rugby history – each player’s cubicle is decorated with names of internationals who have played that position in the past. It all creates a sense of heritage and national pride.
But other Olympic parallels apply. For the duration no branding, no national livery can be applied to stadia. At Twickenham England’s white and red will be covered up, and Swing Low Sweet Chariot will disappear from the seating tiers. England may not even be able to wear white for some matches. It all depends on the toss. Nor has the draw been particularly kind to England. There are four pools in the initial line-up – France faces Ireland, South Africa has Scotland and the US, New Zealand has Argentina, but England has both Australia and Wales. Home Crowd Advantage is thought to be worth an extra 6 to 8 points on the board, and Lancaster is confident his young team has all the energy and talent of squads twice as experienced.
Visit the Rugby World Cup 2015 website for more information and tickets for what is sure to be an exciting tournament 18 September – 31 October.