The biggest sporting event of 2015 will be held on British soil with organisers of the Rugby World Cup admitting that the success of the London Olympics and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow has raised the bar.
The tournament will be held in September and October, mainly in England – with two matches at Elland Road – but with eight matches at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium too.
Debbie Jevans, the chief executive of England 2015 RWC, is keenly aware of the demands of staging a major sporting event from her time as Olympic director for the London 2012 organising committee, and says nothing can be left to chance.
She said: “We have raised the bar with the London Olympics and the Commonwealth Games and I want us to do it again in 2015.
“We are on course but we are not ‘ahead of course’ and I am comfortable with that – you don’t want to be too far ahead of the curve as it can lead to complacency.
“What we have achieved this year and the milestones we have set ourselves means we are on course.”
Ticketing was the biggest challenge for the organisers – it is England 2015’s only source of income and they have to pay a guaranteed £80million to World Rugby, the international governing body of the sport.
“Tickets was such a big thing for us and we have now sold just under 1.85 million of 2.3 million so we are on target with that,” added Jevans.
Some 350,000 tickets were sold via rugby clubs in the summer, with a further 950,000 tickets sold in the first phase of the general sale in September, with most matches going to a ballot such was the demand. Around 70,000 tickets are still available though some more are due to be released for sale in the spring as ‘hand-backs’ – those tickets returned by sponsors. The arrival of 2015 will focus organisers’ minds as never before.
Rugby festivals will be organised at clubs and schools, fan zones will be rolled out in a number of cities, and the volunteers selected following a detailed interview process which was completed before Christmas.
The first test event has already been held – the Saturday evening kick-off between England and Samoa in November.
The William Webb Ellis trophy tour will arrive in the UK 100 days before the start of the tournament and visit all the home nations and Ireland, before the action itself starts with England taking on Fiji at Twickenham on Friday, September 18.
The weekend of September 26-27 will see the tournament visit Elland Road when Italy take on Canada on the Saturday and Scotland play USA on the Sunday.
For Jevans, the challenge is to match the success of the other major sporting events that have taken place on British soil and make sure rugby makes its mark on the country.
She said: “It is an amazing opportunity for the public to come and see the best rugby players in the world.
“There are many great sporting events next year but to my mind the Rugby World Cup will be the biggest event that will take place.
“We are hugely excited by it and we have ambitions to show that we are a true rugby nation.”
For the Rugby Football Union, the tournament needs to create a surge of interest to increase participation.
RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie said: “2015 is a once-in-a-generation chance to inspire the nation to get involved in rugby. Of course we hope the England team are successful, but it is also critical that we put on a fantastic and memorable tournament and crucially create a lasting legacy at the grassroots level.
“We have been planning and investing three years out from the tournament to be ready to take advantage of what we are confident will be a surge in interest.
“We want to increase participation by getting the 16 to 24-year-olds back into the game, offering Touch rugby across the country, building links with other European nations and inspiring people to talk about rugby through cultural programmes.”