England set to overcome jitters with 2015 prize

World Cup 'certs' find themselves under late pressure from South Africa
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The Independent Online

Those nervous burghers of Twickenham will go into today's International Rugby Board meeting in Dublin refusing to count any chickens as far as their bid for the 2015 Rugby World Cup is concerned. But it is fair to say that if England are not named as the host venue sometime this evening there will be coop-loads of egg dripping from faces.

After last month being named the recommended venue by Rugby World Cup Limited, England became the overwhelming favourites to earn the nod over South Africa and Italy in the vote of the 24-member council. But overwhelming favourites do sometimes lose out in the grubby corners of rugby politics. Just ask Japan. They happened to be nudged out by New Zealand in a tense vote for the 2011 tournament in the Irish capital four years ago amid a shameless, IOC-style charade of horse-trading among what the Tokyo contingent bitterly referred to as "the old boys network".

The memory of that controversy will intensify the Rugby Football Union's jitters, as will the late and rather furious charge of the South Africans. The IRB had hoped that by commissioning an independent assessment of the candidate nations, which focused primarily on television and sponsorship factors, the council would be able to have a simple, and more importantly "clean", job of rubber-stamping the choices (the host venue for 2019 will also be voted on today, for which Japan were the recommendation).

Instead, the new procedure has caused rancour which is just bound to have its recriminations. South Africa have written to the IRB complaining about how the panel reached their preferred bidder and are understood to be far from satisfied with the replies. The argument, as ever, centres around money.

While the logical choice in terms of globalising the game would – Japan, apart – arguably be Italy, there is widespread acknowledgement that the IRB needs to fill its coffers because of the expected financial disaster looming in New Zealand (it is thought the deficit could stretch to £20m).

The RFU estimate they could yield £300m, which is £60m more than South Africa. The latter, however, contend that their Government have guaranteed more than the £80m bond which the IRB requires, while the British Government have only put up £25m. Cue rows. Big, ugly ones, which were poised to rage well into the early hours in Dublin hotel bars last night as the South Africans desperately try to convince enough nations to switch their support from what they perceive to be the "arrogant English".

Saying all this, the RFU should and probably will win the day. They privately confess to having totted up the 14 votes they need and do appear to have some strong allies among the bigger nations which are granted two votes to the smaller nations' one vote. The Welsh Rugby Union are very obvious backers, having bartered with the RFU to stage pool games and two quarter-finals at the Millennium Stadium, while Australia and Ireland are also set tick the box next to the Red Rose. Although the Scots are aggrieved that their own request to stage pool matches was knocked back, there should be enough English support at ground level, regardless.

The sight of empty seats during the recent Lions Tour and at last week's Tri Nations Test against New Zealand will not assist the South African bid and this could prove key to marginal voters who will inevitably base their selection about the likely levels of profit. Furthermore, England's embarrassment at missing out would be not nearly as red-faced as that of the IRB.

What would have been the point of the council's new "recommendation process" if it was ultimately ignored by the council? For a governing body sometimes referred to as toothless this would be seen as yet another kick in the molars.

If England are triumphant there will doubtless be mutterings that will soon grow into full-scale broadsides, but they should at least be praised for not "buying up" batches of votes from Ireland and Scotland or, indeed, France. The past World Cups in Britain have suffered from being too strewn from their supposed epicentre and were thus unable to build up a patriotic atmosphere around the event.

Go figure England's 2015 bid by numbers

*The 2015 World Cup is expected to generate at least £300m for the IRB. The tournament fee England would receive is £80m, with the UK market hoping to generate a further £220m in commercial returns from broadcasting, sponsorship and merchandising. This is understood to be around 20 per cent more than the RFU's nearest rival and 50 per cent greater than France 2007.

*England have proposed that Twickenham (82,000) will stage the final. Wembley (90,000), Old Trafford (76,212), and Cardiff's Millennium Stadium (74,500) will also be used to host matches during the competition.

*Other bids for the 2015 World Cup have come from Italy, Japan and South Africa. The Rugby World Cup organisers have recommended that Japan host the event in 2019, after the nation lost the chance to stage the competition for a second time, after being as runners up to New Zealand to host the 2011 World Cup.