RUGBY World Cup organisers insisted they had fulfilled their pledge to engage their whole country in the 2015 tournament, despite scheduling just six matches in the north of England.
England Rugby 2015 yesterday unveiled the 13 venues that will stage the 48 tournament matches, with the Olympic Stadium joining Twickenham, Wembley and the Millennium Stadium on the list.
England’s final Pool A match will be played in Manchester, Scotland tackle Samoa and South Africa in Newcastle, and Leeds’ Elland Road will host two fixtures. There will also be eight matches at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, with Wales playing two pool matches at their home arena, although their fixtures against England and Australia will be at Twickenham.
ER2015 has to sell 2.9 million tickets to meet its £80 million guarantee and was forced to lean more heavily on the Olympic Stadium and Millennium Stadium after Manchester United withdrew Old Trafford from the mix. But ER2015 chief executive Debbie Jevans insisted the World Cup will still be a national event and she vowed to stick to previous promises over low ticket prices.
“We have taken the game to the whole country,” Jevans said. “We have three big stadia in London, but we have taken the game through the whole country and we are proud of that fact. It is a great mix and will ensure that 92 per cent of the population is within 50 miles of a World Cup venue.
“We want England 2015 to be an inclusive tournament that is accessible to all. We’re confident we’re going to be able to honour the minimum access prices that there were and that’s certainly a commitment to us to be able to do that. We really wanted to take England to the north-west and we are delighted Manchester City came to the table and we have a fantastic venue in that.
“It is a great opportunity for fans to come and watch England play. When it comes to the fact it is in the middle of the football season, we are confident the profile of rugby and the campaign we have will ensure there is a massive focus on rugby in 2015.
“We want England to feel like a rugby nation in 2015. You think of 1966, you think the football World Cup. You think of 2012 and it is the Olympics and Paralympics. We want 2015 to remembered as a rugby year, the Rugby World Cup, and to create a generation of rugby heroes and role models.”
The Olympic Stadium’s capacity will be reduced from 80,000 to 56,000 and there are doubts whether the planned retractable seating will be in place in time for the World Cup. “We are genuinely thrilled to have the Olympic Stadium as part of the event. It will absolutely not be a building site,” Jevans said.
“The roof will be in place, we have a detailed plan for the pitch which will be a Desso pitch similar to Twickenham with undersoil heating. It will not be a building site. We believe it will be an amazing venue.”
International Rugby Board chief executive Brett Gosper added: “The Olympic Stadium will reignite some memories.”
The 13 stadia selected include two Aviva Premiership rugby grounds, in Gloucester and Exeter, and the club football grounds of Aston Villa, Brighton, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester City, MK Dons and Leicester.
England will kick off the tournament at Twickenham on the evening of Friday, 18 September, against the Oceania qualifiers, likely to be Fiji.
Twickenham and the Millennium Stadium will each host two quarter-finals. Both semi-finals and the final will be at Twickenham. The draw is such that Wales may play a knockout game in Cardiff. Wembley Stadium hosts two pool matches including New Zealand v Argentina, one of the most attractive-looking games of the group phase.