RWC 2015 committee face conundrum over Millennium Stadium

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

15 thoughts on “RWC 2015 committee face conundrum over Millennium Stadium

  1. On the other hand … Wales will never be able to host a world cup by themselves. We don’t have enough capacity stadiums to satisfy the IRB money requirements. So the only chance Wales will ever have to play in a WC at home is when arrangements can be made to do so when the WC is in England or France. Denying Wales (or Ireland, or Scotland…) the chance to play at home to satisfy a dubious (in my opinion) notion of it all being in “one country” means the only people who will ever get home WC matches in future are either England/France/SA/Aus or whatever developing nation (e.g. Japan/USA) the IRB wants to take rugby to at the time. So you give home advantage only to those countries who can afford to pay for it, or those countries where rugby is a minority sport. Is that fair on the smaller home nations?

    1. I imagine the IRB would be keen for a Celtic RWC at some stage, when I’ve no doubt England would turnaround and say, “Why don’t we just play at home, it’s so close”.

      The other question is a financial one. How much did Wales and Scotland pay France in 2007 for the use of their home stadiums? Or did France foot the bill?

      1. I think the money goes to the IRB? Don’t the IRB ask for an upfront fee from the WC holders, the WC holders keep the suprlus, if there is one? I think Wales probably did ok out of it but it didn’t get them money like a normal home international would given the fee they’d have had to pay. I can’t find anything about this on the web though — though it was interesting to stumble upon England’s original plan for WC 2007 which included that horrendous idea for a 7s style 2nd-tier plate tournament for the “smaller” teams. Thank god that never got started.

        Celtic WC … I can’t see that idea ever coming off given the reticence of the IRB to consider geographically spread WCs anymore. Also, can you imagine the infighting? Contrary to the perceptions of some the Irish and Welsh rugby orgs really do not get on at all with each other. I can’t imagine them being able to organise a WC together without a) fighting a lot with each other b) annoying Scotland because they ignore them while they concentrate on fighting with each other. The Celtic League is constantly threatened with extinction, mostly by the Irish who claim they don’t really need it (and back that up with constantly fielding 2nd string teams and then annoying further everyone by still winning…).

        1. The IRB asked for a predicted figure, which is set at £80 million for 2015, from the host organising committee. So therefore, I wonder who Wales pay, straight to the IRB or to England.

          The Plate Tournament concept came up again at the launch on Monday, and was met with a negative response. Mainly on the basis of financial cost, but also player fatigue etc.

          Regarding the in-fighting, if that was their only way to host a RWC, I’m sure they’d settle things down.

  2. I couldn’t resist this – “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”. No, not at all for that game. England were trounced. They could have played it in the Queen’s back garden and England would still have been trounced the way they played in the early stages of 2007 WC. The final though, that might have been different if at home…

    1. You took the bait! They were hammered, true, but I wonder whether the scoreline would have been less damaging than 36-0. Not sure the French would have allowed the final!

      1. Of course, if England weren’t hammered 36-0 would that have been good or bad for England? Perhaps the one thing England missed in 2011 was a good hammering early on? All those “we’re nearly clicking” early scrapes gave them a false sense that it was all going to come together, whereas the early 2007 shaming gave them the clear idea that a major rethink was needed?

        PS. This is why I do not buy it that Wales are favourites for this years 6 nations. We lost a game against France that we should have won (even with ten men). France themselves narrowly lost the whole thing, dodgy refereeing in the final hurting them immensely. England will be itching to turn it around (remember Wales slam after the 2007 WC?). Ireland (who Wales have first, in Ireland, so that’s a tough game for Wales) will be keen to show they are better than they looked in that WC. I rank Wales as 3rd going into the tournament, probably joint with England at the mo…

        1. Very true, it was the turning point. But a tighter loss against South Africa anyway might have done that, not a pasting. Might have kept the wool over the eyes a bit longer though.

          Agreed on Wales. Three reasons; missing second rows, lost their last three internationals, and France’s squad.

      2. The ONLY reason England weren’t at home for that game was because they bid for it themselves. They went back on a deal done with France with regards voting for the French to get that RWC, so the French went back on a deal offering them their home pool when France won the bid

        So it wasn’t to avoid England having too much of an advantage – England have happily taken it in 99, and offered it in 91 – but because they decided they wanted the RWC (and, iirc, bid for it on an odd ‘split’ RWC that took out a number of minnows into a ‘shield’ competition)

  3. They should not be allowed in my opinion. When putting in the initial bid, England offered Wales and Scotland the chance to go for a Great Britain bid as opposed to a solely English bid. Wales and Scotland refused and instead went with Ireland as part of a Celtic bid.
    They lost.
    For them to come suddenly crawling out of the woodwork and say “So urrr, you still going to let us play at home right?” is a bit cheeky… you make your bed you lie in it…

    1. I don’t remember the Celtic bid but if that’s what happened then I agree it doesn’t seem right for Wales to still expect home games. However, I do think that overall it will benefit the WC if Wales do have their home games in Cardiff. It’s close to England’s rugby heartland (so to overseas visitors will not feel like a massively different place to visit) and it will add to the coffers by hosting games in a full stadium (which also always looks better on the tele to the curious non-rugby fan who is wondering what all the fuss is about).

    2. England had to offer some pretty stringent financial guarantees. I am not sure about that Celtic bid (are you sure? It certainly passed me by. I know it was considered but I thought discarded before a bid was made).

      But given these financial guarantees then the Millenium stadium would be a useful tool to raise the funds. It will sell out for the big Welsh games, and if they are packaged together then you can expect close to capacity for their games vs minnows.

      Given the additional aspects such as hospitality boxes in the Millenium stadium are better and more numerous than at most grounds, and it’s city center location making it easy to ship people in from places like Bristol and Bath which they could market as places to stay to enjoy the countryside (and later, market the GP games after the pool stages), Cardiff makes real sense as a place for holding the games.

      The question is – should Wales be allowed to have their home games there? I would say yes, because the IRB makes such strict financial demands. If they were looser then taking Wales away might be more of an option. But with such tight demands, and demands on ticket percentages sold, etc, then England should be looking at ways of maximising sales at every opportunity.

      Yes this ignores the rugby argument. But I would say the IRB started that by picking New Zealand, then England, over Japan, and by placing such stringent measures on the hosts, so the hosts should also be able to ignore rugby arguments in favour of commercial ones.

      1. The proposed Celtic bid never got off the ground for 2007 because Ireland did not have enough stadia of requiried size. The Aviva Stadium was still only at concept stage leaving Croke Park as the only stadium in Dublin and there were no plans to renovate Thomond Park.
        There are suggestions at the moment that a 2023 Celtic bid is a real possibilty as there should be a new stadium in Belfast aswell by then to go with two stadiums in Dublin and one in Limerick and Cork with the possibilty of GAA stadiums in other cities being used aswell. I think you would find that behind the scenes the Celtic Unions have a good working relationship but they do from time to time plant stories in the media to enhance there position which can suggest tension. The biggest obstacle to a Celtic bid might be Italy given that they are intimately linked to the Celtic Unions now but they should be encouraged to enter a solo bid in my opinion (just not in 2023 if there is a Celtic bid)
        As to whether Wales should host games in 2015 if they were part of the bid and are contributing to the tourament fee then I have no difficulty but my understanding is that Englands bid was a solo bid. I dont think an organising committee should be able to change the terms of reference of a bid after approval as we dont know what effect this would have had on the vote. As long as it is easy to travel between the two countries I dont think the tourament experience is diluted that much though the country which put forward the bid should have the majority of the games and host them all over the country.

  4. I seem to remember the Welsh RFU supporting the English bid, so I think their pool games should be played at the Millenium stadium, but the knockout stages really need to be on English soil for the lead up to the final at Twickenham (although I’d consider a quarter final at the Millenium stadium too).

    1. BTW when I say support, I mean they kinda stood behind England and went “they’d be good for it.” They didn’t officially join the English bid.

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