Ja­pan ahead of Eng­land as WCup hosts: Rugby chief

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

World Rugby’s chief ex­ec­u­tive tried to al­lay fears about Ja­pan’s readiness to stage the 2019 World Cup, say­ing yes­ter­day the coun­try was three years ahead of where 2015 hosts Eng­land were at the same point.

There was con­ster­na­tion last year when the orig­i­nal plan for the re­de­vel­op­ment of Yoko­hama Sta­dium-the main venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2019 Rugby World Cup fi­nal-was aban­doned be­cause of spi­ralling con­struc­tion costs.

This led to spec­u­la­tion that the first Rugby World Cup in Asia could be moved to one of rugby union’s more es­tab­lished na­tions. But World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said feed­back from “ev­ery­one down” from Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe had con­vinced him that Yoko­hama, scene of the 2002 foot­ball World Cup fi­nal, would be ready to stage the cli­max of the 2019 rugby show­piece.

“We were out there a cou­ple of months ago for a for­mal re­view,” Gosper told re­porters on the side­lines of the World Rugby con­fer­ence in Lon­don. “From the prime min­is­ter down we got a good sense of mo­men­tum. We are happy with Yoko­hama.”

Or­gan­is­ers of the 2015 World Cup in Eng­land-where Ja­pan caused one of the all­time great up­sets by beat­ing South Africa-were widely praised for de­liv­er­ing a suc­cess­ful tour­na­ment on and off the field.

But Gosper said Ja­pan was primed to de­liver in its own right. “There is a lot of ex­cite­ment in Ja­pan,” the Aus­tralian said. “They’re ahead of Eng­land at this stage of the prepa­ra­tions, three years out, on most of the cri­te­ria.”

Gosper’s com­ments were en­dorsed by World Rugby chair­man Bill Beau­mont, who said he had been pleased by what he saw on his vis­its to Ja­pan. “I was both im­pressed by the pas­sion and the ex­per­tise,” Beau­mont, cap­tain of Eng­land’s 1980 Grand Slam-win­ning side, said.

“Ja­pan will be ground­break­ing for the sport of rugby in terms of at­tract­ing new fans and play­ers in Asia as they look to the ‘Land of the Ris­ing Scrum’.”

‘NO EASY SO­LU­TION’

While up­beat about Ja­pan’s progress, the 64-year-old said solv­ing the thorny is­sue of a global rugby cal­en­dar, an­other ma­jor task in his in-tray when he suc­ceeded France’s Bernard La­pas­set in July, was prov­ing more dif­fi­cult.

A global cal­en­dar align­ing the north­ern and south­ern hemi­sphere rugby union sea­sons has long been seen as a way of bring­ing more or­der to a con­gested fix­ture list and eas­ing the de­mands on top play­ers. “It’s chal­leng­ing,” said Beau­mont. “I came in think­ing it was some­thing I could sort out pretty quickly, but I found oth­er­wise. It is a case of one step back and one step for­wards. “I’m hope­ful that by early next year we’ll reach a so­lu­tion, but there is no easy so­lu­tion.”

For­mer lock Beau­mont, who played 41 Tests — 34 for Eng­land and seven for the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions-said the phys­i­cal de­mands of rugby made it im­pos­si­ble for the sport to copy foot­ball’s sched­ule. “Our num­ber one pri­or­ity is player wel­fare, we can’t play more than once a week.

“We’re not like soccer where a player in the Pre­mier League can fly to Chile and play an in­ter­na­tional on Tues­day and come back and play for his club on the Satur­day.”

But Beau­mont was un­equiv­o­cal about the suc­cess of the Olympic de­but of rugby sev­ens at this year’s Games in Rio, say­ing it had done won­ders for the sport’s pro­file. — AFP

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