rugby union: Rowell rues World Cup base rebuff

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The Independent Online
England successfully avoided having to stay in Johannesburg during last summer's tour of South Africa, but in the forthcoming World Cup there will be no escape even though they may never play a match there.

Jack Rowell's demand that his team be permitted to stay in Cape Town in the likely event of their qualifying for a quarter- final or semi-final there was rejected by the World Cup directors yesterday, meaning that after completion of the pool matches England will stay at 6,000ft in the Jo'burg/Pretoria area like all the other qualifiers.

If England live up to their burgeoning reputation, winning their pool by beating Western Samoa, Argentina and Italy in Durban, they will travel first to Johannesburg and then, on the eve of their quarter-final against Australia or South Africa, to Cape Town - and likewise if they then reach the last four.

If this seems like a piece of nonsense, the official justification given yesterday by Sir Ewart Bell, the World Cup chairman, was that it was the same for everyone and ensured that all teams could acclimatise themselves at altitude.

But when Sir Ewart noted that Australia would have to put up with it too, his co-director, Leo Williams, an Australian, pointed out that his country had also unsuccessfully put in for a change, so England were not isolated after all. Moreover, Wales put in a request to spend less time in Bloemfontein and more in Johannesburg at the pool stage but they received as dusty a response as England.

Blaming a shortage of adequate hotel rooms, Sir Ewart said: "It is extremely difficult to deal with this situation in a way that gives every individual team complete flexibility. The only union that put a proposition of this kind to us was the Rugby Football Union." In other words, no preferential treatment.

Rowell, who did not endear himself at the managers' meeting in South Africa in December, will not have his humour improved by the decision, though the England players themselves seem to be less bothered. Rob Andrew, on hand for yesterday's launch in London of Xerox's £850,000 World Cup sponsorship, said: "There's been an awful fuss but the England players will just get on with it."

The outside-half added: "I'm a little surprised it won't be possible to stay in the city in which we're playing our next game. It's not the best physical or mental preparation for what will be a huge game, whether it's against Australia or South Africa, to have to travel the day before."