Tim Glover: Why the north must cash in on the game

After the glory: England will rue losing 2007 bid to France as World Cup in Australia leaves code at an all-time high
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The Independent Online

How do you follow that? With great difficulty, judging by the compromise that has already been reached for the 2007 World Cup. "See you in France,'' was the message flashed up on the giant videoscreen inside the Telstra Stadium at the end of the most engrossing final of the most successful tournament.

The sign omitted to mention see you also in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, where 10 matches are scheduled to be played. If the International Rugby Board have learnt anything from the extravaganza Down Under, it is that the World Cup should be played in one country, even if Australia passed the ball around to parts of the territory that rugby union wouldn't nor-mally reach.

Yet for the next showpiece a classic fudge has already been reached with France offering matches to the three home countries in exchange for their support in its bid to host the tournament. Wales struck a similar deal when it "hosted'' the 1999 World Cup.

When England threw its hat into the ring for 2007 it was promptly kicked out again by every voting nation except Canada. England have long memories and such dismissive treatment made them even more determined during the course of the last two remarkable months to win the Webb Ellis Cup. It should be argued that the English chariot is already adorned with quite enough gold (they were heavily involved in 1991 and 1999) but if the competition had been staged solely in England next time round the response and the revenues would have been huge.

This is not to say that France won't put on a thoroughly professional show - an illuminated rugby ball on top of the Eiffel Tower, Jonny Wilkinson kicking a drop goal over the Arc de Triomphe - but a fragmented World Cup should not be part of the deal.

Nor should the RFU entertain thoughts of moving closer to the Tri-Nations and treating the Six Nations, in which they claim they should have the lions' share of the revenue, like a second thought. Now is the time for rugby in the northern hemisphere to ride the wave.

The response in Australia, where not so long ago the world in union had been very small indeed compared to rugby league and Aussie rules, was extraordinary, so much so that it is almost tempting, but not quite, to take the thing back there every four years.

The total attendance was 1,837,547; revenue from ticket sales was A$202m. Subtract Australian rugby union expenses of A$120m and the profit from ticket sales was divided between the ARU (A$45m) and the IRB (A$37m). Take in IRB revenue from commercial backing, which was reckoned to be about A$140m, and the total profit is approaching A$230m.

Mike Miller, chief executive of the IRB, said the next one would be better. It wasn't difficult to predict the semi-finalists in Australia but Miller said that countries ranked from five to eight would be strengthened and money spent on the smaller nations. The sooner the better, the more the merrier although at seven weeks the tournament is too long and some of the ticket prices far too high.

John O'Neill, the flamboyant head of the ARU, wants to spend some of his profits on exploiting the code's high profile. "We've got a substantial platform,'' he said, "but it's not the magic wand. It's what we make of it now. This is not the end, it's the beginning. Our ambition was to win the Cup, stage the best tournament there's been and get the country to embrace the game. As Meat Loaf said, two out of three ain't bad.''

Where O'Neill has scored, in addition to utilising the excellent volunteer base that was established for the Sydney Olympics, is in selling a game to the public that they had never fully appreciated. What union offers is many different facets - a specialist scrum and line-out, players of different shapes and sizes and of different abilities. And what professionalism has introduced is a massive element of hardness. When technical offences aren't being committed there is no respite and last weekend's classic final brought it all home. The public, paying big money (the ticket touts in Sydney were from England), knew they weren't being short-changed by the players. This was the real thing.

Wilkinson's drop goal with seconds to spare in England's 20-17 triumph was his eighth of the tournament, which was seven more than anybody else. They call them field goals in Australia and they don't much care for them unless they are being kicked by Stephen Larkham. The kicks have, though, played a strangely influential role in the history of the World Cup.

Wilkinson's mentor at Newcastle, Rob Andrew, dropped the goal that knocked Australia out of the quarter-finals in 1995 and after England had been smashed by Jonah Lomu, Joel Stransky's drop goal won the final for South Africa against the All Blacks. Four years later Jannie de Beer - it shows how difficult it is to defend against a drop goal - kicked five to knock England out of the quarters in Paris and at Twickenham Larkham produced one from seemingly nowhere to defeat South Africa in the semi-finals. In the other semi-final between France and New Zealand, Christophe Lamaison was also at it. It is arguably more difficult than kicking a penalty, so calls for the drop goal to be reduced in value are questionable.

While Clive Woodward and his squad await to receive all manner of awards and receptions, including a victory tour through London on 8 December after which they will meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace and Tony Blair at Downing Street, the coach has his diary filled in for next year and beyond. It is why he has asked his players to think about their immediate future.

"I've asked them all not to make any rash decisions and to see how they feel in January or February. It's a great team.'' England play the New Zealand Barbarians at Twickenham on 20 December, they tour New Zealand next year and in 2005 the Lions have a series against the All Blacks. Two years ago when the Lions toured Australia and lost the series 2-1, they were coached by the New Zealander Graham Henry, then in charge of Wales. Woodward, whose contract with the RFU has been extended to the next World Cup, cannot be overlooked for the Lions' post and nor, intriguingly, can Henry for the coaching role of New Zealand.

In the meantime C W and J W are on cloud 10. "I knew the supporters were coming but when we got to the stadium it was better than Twickenham,'' Woodward reflected. "You never get an atmosphere like that in London. I've always dreamed that one day we might go to Twickenham and see 75,000 people in white shirts. Sport is massive in England but we don't take it quite as seriously as the Australians and that's our fault.''

White jerseys? When the New Zealand Barbarians visit Twickenham next month it will look like a snowstorm.