Rugby World Cup: Rush for tickets leaves few empty seats

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SOUTH AFRICAN rugby supporters are either confident or just plain arrogant. Almost 5,000 of them have booked World Cup tickets for only the latter stages of the tournament. Their target date is Saturday, 30 October, when the first of the semi-finals is staged at Twickenham (the second is at the same venue the following day).

That first semi-final could well involve South Africa, although on recent form it is a mighty big gamble on the part of the 4,700 fans who have reserved places through Gullivers Sports Travel, the Tewkesbury-based travel firm which is an official Rugby World Cup agency.

Many New Zealanders have also been booking up from the quarter-finals onwards and have bought tickets for Murrayfield, reasoning that the All Blacks will win Pool B. If they finish as runners-up to England, they will have to face a quarter-final play-off place at Twickenham and, if successful, would then play in a quarter-final in Paris. That would leave a lot of Kiwis grounded, because the quarter-finals are a sell-out.

While the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final are all sold out, there are still tickets available for several pool matches. Among those tickets still available are England's Twickenham matches against Italy and Tonga and various ties at Murrayfield, Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow, as well as the quarter-final play-off at Twickenham on 20 October. However, there are no tickets left for any of the Wales games.

Altogether some 20,000 fans are expected to enter this country for the tournament, twice as many as travelled to South Africa for the 1995 World Cup, which Gullivers also handled.

The South Africans will easily form the biggest contingent of visiting fans. In all, Gullivers has taken more than 7,000 bookings from South Africa. Next in line are New Zealand with close on 5,000, while more than 2,500 Australians will be travelling over from the other side of the world. With a sizeable community of southern hemisphere supporters already based in this country or in Europe, they can be guaranteed strong vocal backing.

Expatriate communities from the Middle East, Hong Kong, Kenya and Zimbabwe have also booked their passage for the month-long tournament. There will even be some 200 from Namibia, one of the World Cup outsiders, although the likes of Tonga, Western Samoa and Fiji will probably have to rely on what few countrymen are around already for their support. Argentina and Japan will both bring around 500 supporters.

The trickle of travelling bands of supporters has already begun, but it will not become a stream until the knock-out stages. One place which is likely to remain largely unoccupied by invading forces is Galashiels, in the Borders. Spain take on Uruguay there this Saturday, but there have been no inquiries to Gullivers for tickets from the South American country, although a few Spaniards are expected to make the trip.

Telephone bookings can be made by ringing the Rugby World Cup ticket hotline on 0870 909 1999 . Tickets can also be booked through the Ticketmaster website: