One of the more interesting points to come out of Monday’s launch of the 2015 Rugby World Cup was regarding the use of the Millennium Stadium. Wales are keen to play their matches at home, but should they be allowed to?
Arguably the greatest rugby stadium in the world, the Millennium Stadium has been used so far in two Rugby World Cups since it’s construction was completed in June 1999. It was used extensively throughout the 1999 Rugby World Cup, when Wales were the host nation with England, Scotland, Ireland and France all playing their matches at their respective home stadiums. Onto 2007, Wales were able to play their group matches against Australia and Japan on home turf, despite the World Cup being based in France. Scotland were able to do the same, taking on New Zealand and Romania at Murrayfield.
Now looking ahead to 2015, Wales are hoping to do the same once more. The WRU Chief Roger Lewis claimed in New Zealand that he expected Wales to play all of their matches at home, whilst IRB Chief Mike Miller declared on Monday a decision is yet to be made. Playing them in Cardiff makes economical sense for the governing committee given the capacity of the Millennium Stadium, 74,500. There a stronger financial possibility of selling out the ground for Wales game against their fellow Tier One nation, plus potentially two thirds to half of the ground for the remaining Pool Stage games, than them playing in Newcastle or Leeds. But should they be allowed to?
Playing matches away from the host country is an issue that did not come up during last year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, simply because the only team that could have potentially played their matches at home were Australia. With every single game was played in the one country, it gave the whole tournament a sense of inclusiveness. If a country wins the right to host a Rugby World Cup, playing some matches elsewhere seems a bit of a cop out. The 2007 RWC is remembered as the tournament that was held in France, but yet five matches were held abroad, including the infamous quarter-final between France and New Zealand. That’s right. France, the hosts, had to play away from home in Cardiff.
In terms of the stadia set to be used in 2015, using Wembley and Old Trafford, both with bigger capacities than the Millennium Stadium, means that England are more than well catered for with regards to large stadiums with capacities over 70,000. Wales fans would have to travel for their side’s matches, potentially to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry for group stages matches and then to London or Manchester if they progress. But then so will every other country.
There is little doubt that Wales would benefit from playing their matches in Cardiff, but then it is England’s World Cup, not their own. Imagine for example if England had faced South Africa at Twickenham in the group stages of the 2007 World Cup, whether the outcome might have been different. Even more farfetched, what if the committee decide to have a quarter-final in Cardiff which leads to Wales facing one of England, Scotland or Ireland at home? Allowing Wales to play at home opens up a can of unnecessary worms. If the Rugby World Cup is to supposed to be held in England, then as with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, all of it should be.
by Ben Coles