03 JOHN O’NEILL
Australia and New Zealand were all set to co-host the 2003 World Cup. Then things got messy as the tournament got closer. Some of the detail began to be problematic and the impression was drawn that the Australian Rugby Union, through chief executive John O’Neill, boxed New Zealand into a corner.
O’Neill, it was argued, slipped New Zealand the thin end of the hosting wedge, offering limited financial compensation while keeping the highest profile showpiece games across the Tasman.
In the end, after months of protracted and at times heated negotiations, New Zealand gave up and Australia were awarded the sole rights.
It was seen by many as an act of treachery by O’Neill that he had played for that very scenario.
But whatever the truth, it turned out to be an enormous blessing in disguise as New Zealand avoided taking a financial bath and by having missed out, were able to mount a successful solo bid for the 2011 hosting rights.
“The irony of it is that if we hadn’t lost the co-hosting rights we wouldn’t have put in a bid and we certainly wouldn’t have got the chance to host the whole tournament [in 2011],” says NZR chief executive Steve Tew.
“The work that was done between November 2002 and November 2005 was considerable and symbolically, given the Lions are coming back, it was very helpful we had the Lions in 2005 because we were able to demonstrate our capability to host a major event and that was very much an important part of the decision-making process. I am absolutely convinced of that.”
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS Losing the 2003 co-hosting rights was a blessing in disguise for New Zealand.