Northern Ireland can have huge role in World Cup: Ulster chief Shane Logan
Ulster Rugby CEO Shane Logan has underlined that the province wants to play a major part in hosting the "best ever" Rugby World Cup.
Ireland is aiming to secure the 2023 tournament with Kingspan, Casement Park and Celtic Park among the stadiums that could host fixtures if the bid is chosen ahead of France and South Africa in November next year.
Logan is also aiming to provide facilities that will persuade the world's best teams to make their training bases in Northern Ireland.
"We have had a World Cup bid board for almost two years now," Logan said at a briefing of the All Party Assembly Group on Rugby at Stormont yesterday.
"We've been working to understand what World Rugby want, to understand the learnings from the English World Cup last year, and to ensure that our offering is better than our two main rivals.
"We have joined an all-Ireland bid but in this jurisdiction we are working very hard to ensure the bricks and mortar in terms of stadiums and in terms of training bases.
"World Rugby have issued their specifications for the stadiums, we know what that is and we want to exceed that.
"In another month or so they will issue the specifications around the training bases and, with the help of the Executive here, we hope we can deliver a number of really top quality training bases.
"If we do get the right to host in November of next year, the work is then over the next three years to ensure we can deliver a World Cup that is better than anything that's gone before."
Casement's involvement in the bid comes despite the ongoing debate about the stadium's potential redevelopment into a 40,000 all-seater stadium.
The only ground north of the border with a capacity capable of hosting fixtures between two of the game's biggest nations, Logan admits that the approval of plans is imperative if we are to see the All Blacks, Springboks or England in Belfast.
"On the assumption that Casement is up and running, then yes we would be looking at Tier One internationals being played (in Northern Ireland)," he said.
"The capacity needed for a Tier One international is something around 30,000. If Casement is that, or above, that opens up an opportunity.
"We would be optimistic that there would be a fair distribution around all of Ireland in line with the stadiums that are available."
Two stadiums under the 30,000 capacity mark were used in last year's tournament - Kingsholm and Sandy Park - and both largely held fixtures involving Tier Two nations, although Scotland, Argentina and Italy all also played once in front of the smaller capacity crowds.
While Kingspan Stadium is largely in line with current criteria, Logan revealed that some minor changes will be made.
"As it stands, it (Kingspan Stadium) pretty much meets it but there are a couple of issues," he said.
"The pitch needed is a synthetic, grass and fibre type pitch, and we don't have one, (and) we would need to enhance the quality of the lights."
The improvements of facilities all throughout the province are what Logan believes will be the key to Ulster Rugby continuing to grow at the pace evident in recent years.
"A lot of the pillars of the professional game are in place," he said. "Our coaching is excellent and improving and growing stronger.
"Our succession, by way of strength and depth, is improving all the time. We've quadrupled our investment into our academy and sub-academy. The next phase needs to be in the investment into the clubs and schools game. The club game has grown slightly over the last five or six years but not enough.
"We are not privately owned. We exist to serve the grassroots game and I think we've made some great initiatives. That needs to be the focus of the next five to 10 years."
On the current senior team, Logan adds that he still believes the current structures will soon yield silverware.
"If I go back over five years, it's the bounce of a ball or good fortune," he said when asked why top honours were still eluding the side.
"In 12/13 we led the league for 16 weeks out of 22, earned the right for a home final but because the stadium was being built, we had to play away to Leinster and narrowly lost it.
"I think that losing away to Glasgow in the season before last when we would have had a home final was very difficult to take.
"We've come very, almost agonisingly, close on two or three occasions and I think if we can get the bounce of the ball or a bit of fortune we will be there or thereabouts.
"You can't be deflected by one, two or three bits of difficulty. You've got to keep moving ahead.
"Somebody said to me at the start, 'you win three in a row and you're in heaven, lose three in a row and you're in hell'.
"They told me, 'don't believe that. You've got to keep growing and building'.
"If you continue to improve, and learn faster than the competition, trophies will land regularly.
"We've got to keep trying to improve, keep trying to learn faster than the opposition, and at that point the silverware we all crave hopefully will come regularly."