Wales' victory upsets world order

BY STEVE BALE

You might imagine all is sweetness and light now that the International Rugby Board has settled on Wales to be host - not forgetting England, Scotland, Ireland and France - for the 1999 World Cup.

"Australia are naturally disappointed but they have taken the decision in the spirit of rugby," Vernon Pugh, the impartial chairman of the IRB but partial chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, said. In fact, Australia are distraught and upset at having lost out - it is thought by a margin of 12-8 - when the vote finally came on Saturday evening. There was no "spirit of rugby" when the bids were being prepared and considered and there is none now.

So when Pugh says it has been "a very happy year" as IRB chairman we can take that, too, with a pinch of salt. Sick of the horse-trading that has besmirched the bidding for the 1999 World Cup, he accepts the method of selection must be changed.

Publicly he remains emollient. "I feel sorry for Australia because they put up a magnificent performance in their presentation," he said. "I'm also proud of Wales, because ours won because it was marginally better."

The outcome is a World Cup divided between five countries compared with the Australian bid's three, with the huge advantage of geographical compactness compared with the hours of flying that would have been involved in going between Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Having upset the Scots and Irish by originally throwing them too few crumbs, the Welsh plans for what will by then be 20 qualifiers have ended up with five pools of four, one each in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, with England hosting one and sharing another with France.

The five pool winners will qualify for the quarter-finals with the other three being determined by play-off matches involving the five runners- up and one best third-placed country. Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France will host quarter-finals, with England staging two and France one of the play-offs.

With both semi-finals going to Twickenham and either a redeveloped Cardiff Arms Park or, less likely, a completely new Welsh stadium, the venue for the third-place match and final, the break-down of the 41 matches is England 13, Wales nine, Scotland and Ireland seven each and France five.

Both previous World Cups led to the conclusion that combinations of countries and legal systems were a thoroughly bad basis for staging the tournament. But the IRB went ahead anyway, on the basis that the only one-country bid - from France - came too late and that this was the only way the would-be hosts, Wales and Australia, could attract the support they needed.

The stakes were sufficiently high for the Australian Rugby Union to utilise Mark McCormack's International Management Group to draw up its bid. The Welsh presentation was made not only by Glanmor Griffiths, the WRU treasurer, but also by Gerald Davies, the eminent and articulate former Wales wing - whose presence prompted a churlish objection from the Australians on the grounds that he was not a member of the WRU.

It can now expected that the Antipodeans will extract their price by insisting on the alternation between northern and southern hemispheres, which they had specifically sought to break with their bid, even if they did assert that Japan was after all in the northern hemispehere.

Thus a similar bid from Australia, New Zealand and Japan for 2003, with the addition of a plate competition which the Australians belatedly wanted to insert this time, is likely to be favourably received. Or if it is not, it is not inconceivable that they will withdraw from a tournament they were responsible for initiating in 1987, with France having to wait impatiently until 2007.

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