Rugby Union: World Cup venues cut: Pressure on S Africa

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THE VENUES for next year's World Cup in South Africa were yesterday reduced from 14 to 10. But far more serious was the official acknowledgement that the bidding to hold rugby union's showpiece event elsewhere was moving towards a conclusion.

The trauma would have been avoided by the simple expedient of holding the 1999 tournament in South Africa. Instead, the

International Rugby Board will decide on its alternative, to be invoked if the security situation makes it necessary, at its annual meeting in March.

Ten venues are a compromise reached after a fraught discussion between Rugby World Cup Ltd, which is in charge, and Louis Luyt, the maverick chairman of the South African Rugby Football Union's organising committee, president of the Transvaal Rugby Union and boss of Ellis Park, Johannesburg, where the World Cup final is due to take place on 24 June 1995.

RWC hopes against hope that it has reined in Luyt by

refusing to go along with his plan for double-headers restricted to the six South African Test grounds, though it is now anxiously awaiting the

result of SARFU executive elections on 11 March which could widen Luyt's domestic power base still further.

Eight other countries - the home unions, France, Japan, and Australia and New Zealand jointly - want the alternative World Cup. RWC will present its analysis to the IRB annual meeting.

If there were violence after the multi-racial general election on 27 April or if anything were to disturb England's tour of South Africa in May and June, the change would have to come about.

'We have said before and would say again that clearly there are difficulties in organising a World Cup event in South Africa during a

period, or soon after a period, of fundamental constitutional change,' Sir Ewart Bell, RWC chairman, said yesterday.

'That is very obvious to all. But for its own good reasons, the International Board so decided. We are implementing that decision and have no reason to think, in February 1994, that that is not a feasible proposition. Circumstances may change, and if circumstances change significantly, we will react accordingly.'

He added: 'The three crucial months for us in organising Rugby World Cup are going to be April, May, June 1994. The outcome of the England tour will be highly significant because it's at that crucial period.'

The agreement struck with Luyt when he was in Paris three weeks ago involves the deletion of Brakpan, Germiston, Pietermaritzburg and Witbank. Germiston had voluntarily withdrawn and facilities at the other three were inadequate and too costly to upgrade.

The changes mean England, who had been due to face the Americas qualifier in Pietermaritzburg, will play all their pool matches in Durban. Ireland's game against the Asian qualifier at Germiston will now take place at Bloemfontein, with their other pool matches remaining in Pretoria.

Aubin Hueber, the French replacement scrum-half, has been ruled out of the rest of the Five Nations' Championship after damaging knee ligaments playing for Toulon on Sunday.