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RFU reject Wales offer to host England World Cup clash

Chief executive officer of the RFU Ian Ritchie. Photo credit: Adam Davy/EMPICS Chief executive officer of the RFU Ian Ritchie. Photo credit: Adam Davy/EMPICS

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
7:15 AM

Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has politely rejected the proposal that England’s 2015 World Cup pool match against Wales should be played in Cardiff.

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England are the host nation of the tournament but the RFU’s bid included the prospect of the Millennium Stadium being used for up to eight matches, including two quarter-finals.

England and Wales were drawn together alongside Australia in the World Cup’s pool of death, with Fiji likely to join them as Oceania qualifiers.

Immediately after the draw, Welsh Rugby Union boss Roger Lewis suggested Wales should play England at the Millennium Stadium because it is the “finest rugby stadium in the world”.

Ritchie’s response to the WRU was effectively “thank you, but no thank you” - and that is the message he will take to the board of tournament organisers England Rugby 2015, who will make the final decision on fixtures and venues.

“We have a very nice home of our own and I would hope very much we would contemplate playing the match here,” said Ritchie, who sits on the ER2015 board and is overseeing a £76million upgrade of Twickenham stadium.

“With our modest little stadium here at Twickenham, with the further investment we might be able to make it into a decent spot to play rugby!

“We equally believe we are very good hosts here and that we could hold a decent game here and would very much want to do that.

“Shock, horror and astonishment that I would suggest that!

“It is not a decision that is taken by the RFU but we are entitled to lobby our views.

“There is a discussion that needs to happen at the 2015 board and then those recommendations are put forward (to Rugby World Cup Ltd).

“I would hope obviously that we have a say in that and we will see what they come with.”

The 2015 World Cup final will definitely be played at Twickenham and Ritchie’s expectation is that England will also open the tournament at their headquarters on Friday, September 18.

That decision, along with all those relating to the tournament fixture schedule and the match venues, will not be taken by the ER2015 board until the end of March but it could be England v Wales.

“I believe, but I have not sat down and had this categorically agreed, that the opening match would be at Twickenham,” Ritchie said.

“You want to have an opening game that grabs the imagination. I would expect it to involve England.”

ER2015 currently has a list of 17 potential venues that will be whittled down to between and 12 and 14 once the fixture matrix for the 48 matches has been finalised.

Using the Millennium Stadium could help organisers hit their target of selling 2.9million tickets but Ritchie insisted those commercial demands would not necessarily influence the decision.

Wales played Australia at the Millennium Stadium during the pool stages of the 2007 World Cup, when the WRU held some official hosting status.

This time, the RFU would effectively be leasing the ground from the WRU in order to utilise a 72,000-capacity stadium within easy reach of the south-west of England.

Consequently, there are those who believe Wales should not be afforded home advantage against Australia or England, despite Lewis’ promise of a “croeso mawr (a big welcome) in the valleys”.

Ritchie said: “Of course the economics of the World Cup are hugely important but this is a unique opportunity in a generation for us to inspire the country about rugby.

“That’s still the most important thing - and to put on a really high quality event that engages everybody, in the same way the Olympics did.

“We have to get the right pools in the right place. That is not just a question of working the economics. We need to get anyone who wants to come and watch all of the games at whatever venue it is.

“There is a discussion that needs to happen at the 2015 board and then those recommendations are put forward.”

Although Cardiff appears to be off the agenda, it is feasible that England could play at least one of their pool matches away from Twickenham.

“Whether England play a match at Old Trafford (for example) is a matter we have to deliberate,” Ritchie said.

“But the important priority, from where I’m selfishly sitting, is I want England to have the best possible World Cup.”

Head coach Stuart Lancaster wants England to be at Twickenham for those crunch pool matches.

“Clearly from our point of view Twickenham would be our preferred venue,” Lancaster said.

“What home advantage did for the Olympians is a great example of how it inspires people to an extra five or 10 per cent, and sometimes at this level that’s what’s needed.

“It’s massive for England to have the World Cup here.”

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