The Aviva Premiership is set to be suspended during the first month of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, after ER 2015 CEO Paul Vaughan admitted that the league realistically cannot happen at the same time as the RWC.
Dependent on the start date of the Rugby World Cup, which is provisionally set for the 4th of September 2015 but could well change, Vaughan stated that the Premiership could potentially play a block of matches before the tournament if the date is moved slightly later, or it would be more likely that the Premiership would be suspended throughout the duration of the Pool Stages, but would begin during the knockout stage, with the focus on encouraging visiting fans who remained in the country to go and watch the Premiership matches played on non-RWC days (potentially Friday nights ahead of a quarter-final or semi-final on the Saturday or Sunday).
Only two of the stadiums used during the Pool Stages belong to Aviva Premiership sides, Welford Road and Kingsholm, with Vaughan confirming that both of those grounds would not be used after the Pool Stages so that Leicester Tigers and Gloucester would be able to play any home matches they had scheduled. A previous example of this was in France in 2007, where the Top 14 resumed in the knockout stages.
In the first press conference at the new headquarters for England 2015 in Webb Ellis House opposite the East Stand at Twickenham, a top table of Vaughan, RWC Limited Managing Director Mike Miller, plus ambassadors Will Greenwood, Maggie Alphonsi and Lawrence Dallaglio were all present to discuss the tournament. The tournament’s other ambassador, former England and current Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, was not present after his side’s 25-19 defeat to Clermont Auvergne last night. The building will operate as a base for both the England 2015 organisation and the IRB, who will set up an office there next week.
The dates for the fixtures will be confirmed in March, with the venues following before the Pools draw is made in November, from when the 8 teams who must qualify for the tournament will begin their qualification process. Miller was keen to stress that 2015 would be more like the RWC held in France in 2007 in terms of economics, focusing on the advantage of bigger stadia and a greater population than in New Zealand last year. As a result, this will mean ticket prices will begin at £10 for Pool Stage matches.
In terms of figures, ER 2015 have guaranteed the IRB a return of £80 million for the tournament, estimating to sell around 2.8 to 3 million tickets, a significant increase from 1.74 million sold in new Zealand. Given an estimated rugby following of around 9 million in the UK, plus an expected 350,000 visitors from overseas, Vaughan & Miller both seemed confident that target would be reached.
Other issues discussed were the use of the Millennium Stadium for Wales home matches, on which a decision was yet to be made. In addition, Miller stated that given the culture in the United Kingdom for big sporting occasions in mid-week, there was a chance that England and the other big Test nations could play their matches on a Wednesday, in order to insure an overall fairer turnaround time for each team participating. Vaughan also revealed that Richmond Borough Council had approved a plan to re-develop Twickenham station, which would be complete before the start of the tournament.
by Ben Coles
Photo courtesy of RugbyMedia