Ritchie on the back foot after Welsh plot a World Cup heist

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The Independent Online

Ian Ritchie did his level best to appear grateful for the offer from the far side of the Severn Bridge, but the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union never quite managed to look like a man who had stayed awake all night wondering whether to accept such lavish Welsh largesse. Quizzed on whether England would contemplate ceding home advantage to their sworn enemy when the two countries meet in a pool match at the 2015 World Cup, he answered with a question of his own – and a very good question it was too.

"Why would we want to do that?" he asked, not unreasonably, during a discussion on the ramifications of Monday's tournament draw, which placed England, the hosts, in a horrible pool with Wales and Australia. "I must make it clear that it's not my decision, but I'd like to think the games against Wales and the Wallabies will be played at Twickenham. Shock, horror and astonishment that I should suggest such a thing!"

It was Ritchie's opposite number at the Welsh governing body, Roger Lewis, who provocatively proposed that the derby contest should be played in Cardiff, on the grounds that the Millennium Stadium, guaranteed to be on the list of venues despite standing on non-English soil, "is the best rugby stadium in the world". Somehow, the RFU boss did not seem wholly convinced. "It's very nice of Wales to ask us over, but we feel that with a £76m investment going into our own modest little stadium, we might make Twickenham a decent spot for a game of rugby."

Barbed witticisms aside, Ritchie, above, did acknowledge that there were difficult fixture-scheduling decisions ahead for England Rugby 2015, the delivery body set up to bring the event to fruition. As the RFU included the Millennium Stadium on its roster largely for economic reasons – charged with attracting average gates of almost 60,000 across 48 matches to meet financial targets, the governing body was rather taken with the idea of a series of 75,000 sell-outs – it will have to offer the Welsh something more than a home game against a low-profile qualifier. "The economic side of the tournament is highly important," Ritchie said, "but it is also true that in 2015, we will have a unique opportunity – an opportunity that arises once in a generation – to grow the game in England, to inspire people across the country to participate in rugby.

"If we move games away from Twickenham, how will that work out in terms of financial returns? What will the England coaches think about it? All these things will have to be considered, so it's good we don't need to decide today or tomorrow."

If including the Millennium Stadium on the venue list seemed like a good idea at the time, the view in some quarters has changed now that Sod's Law has had its wicked way by joining England and Wales together at the competitive hip.

Was the Cardiff option now being seen as a mistake? "I won't speculate on hypotheticals going backwards and you wouldn't expect me to," Ritchie said, uncomfortably aware that the Australian squad will be every bit as apoplectic as the red-rose contingent if they find themselves participating in what amounts to a Welsh home game.