English rugby chiefs offered a polite “thanks but no thanks” after Wales attempted to hijack the 2015 World Cup pool matches by making the Millennium Stadium a major focal point for the tournament.
England are the host country but relied upon strong Welsh support to land the tournament and now Roger Lewis, the Welsh Rugby Union chief executive, is calling in the favour, claiming up to eight matches could be played in Wales.
Lewis was clearly mischief making after the World Cup draw put England, Wales and Australia together in the “Group of Death” — Pool A along with two other teams, one likely to be Fiji. He suggested England could play Wales at the Millennium Stadium because it is one of the “finest” in the world.
However, Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive, today confirmed that Twickenham will stage that match with Wales having to settle for a key game against Australia, who will be in the unusual position of lining up against two “home” teams in their pool games.
“We are going to keep those pool matches — shock, horror!” said Ritchie.
England will want a major input into the opening game on September 18 as there are varying options open to the hosts. They could push for an easy start against the winner of the play-off system or opt to begin with the dangerous Fiji or even Wales or Australia.
The final decision about which stadia will host pool matches will be announced in March with England RWC 2015 chief executive Debbie Jevans admitting she will be receiving messages from various competing nations asking for particular scenarios.
Jevans said: “At this point I am not ruling anything out and I am not ruling anything in. Wales have invited England to Cardiff along with various matches. Roger [Lewis] is pushing for as many games as possible and I understand where he is coming from. Now the draw has been made, we can make the appropriate decisions.”
Lewis delivered his idea with a broad grin and said: “It is very important to remember that Wales was included in England’s bid for matches in the Millennium Stadium. What was pencilled in was eight games and I think they [England] would embrace the opportunity to play in the finest rugby stadium in the world.”
The Rugby Football Union have guaranteed the International Rugby Board a cheque for £80m from the tournament which means the biggest arenas available must be used — led by Twickenham and the Millennium Stadium. “I am very aware of the financial targets but my priority is not corporate hospitality,” added Jevans.
Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, sidestepped the venue debate but his captain, Chris Robshaw, made it clear the kind of support his team received during the 38-21 win over New Zealand on Saturday will be crucial in the World Cup campaign.
Robshaw said: “Of course we want to be at Twickenham and have home advantage — 80,000 people shouting you on and cheering you on.”
Lancaster had made initial arrangements to play warm-up matches against Wales, however, thanks to the draw, a new opponent will have to be found. He is also going to use the experience of the All Blacks, who lifted the trophy as hosts in 2011, as a template.
He said: “It is unbelievably exciting. Twelve months ago I went out to New Zealand for two weeks and got a sample of what it is like out there. We have seen what the Olympics has done for our country and the next big sporting event is the World Cup in 2015.”