In comparison to previous editions of rugby’s global showpiece, yesterday’s World Cup hosting announcements were devoid of much intrigue.
What has felt like a fait accompli for quite some time — the sending of the men’s and women’s tournaments in 2027 and ‘29 to Australia and ‘31 and ‘33 to the USA — seemed so unlikely to be upended that the Harbour Bridge in Sydney was lit up in Wallaby green and gold hours before the official announcement.
In truth, building upon the success of Japan 2019 and the booming ticket sales ahead of the tournament in France next year, both options make such abundant sense that other parties would have been skating uphill. In both cases, the dollar looms large.
Australia, nominally a superpower of the game but having again fallen on lean times as two-time World Cup winners, had only two years ago even floated the idea of reverting to amateurism in the face of a mounting cash crisis.
Instead, with not just men’s and women’s World Cups coming their way, but a British and Irish Lions tour on the horizon in 2025 too, the effect will be recuperative.
Australia, who hosted previous editions of the men’s competition in 1987 and 2003, will use the cash injection as a much needed shot in the arm.
After posting a loss of A$27.1 million in 2020 due to the pandemic — a figure that was cut to A$4.5 million last year — what is being called a “golden decade of rugby”, owing not just to the Lions and the World Cups but the 2022 Olympics too, will be relied upon to reverse the trend and bring in the kind of money that can have a knock-on effect for generations.
Wallaby legend Tim Horan stated that the decision was “the most significant moment in Australian rugby history since winning the RWC in 1991 that put rugby on the map in Oz,” and Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan was in no mood either to downplay the potential importance of the bid’s success for a country where the sporting market place is more crowded than most.
“This is a historic day for rugby in Australia,” he said.
"We’re beyond thrilled to be welcoming not one, but two Rugby World Cups to our shores.
“It’s a game-changer for rugby in this country, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise and secure the future of the sport here and see the game we all love grow and thrive for years to come.
“I’d like to thank our federal and state and territory governments for the belief and support they’ve all shown in Rugby Australia’s bid over the last four years.”
If the tournaments going to Australia is expected to be restorative, then the decision to send 2031 and ‘33 Stateside is a bet on the transformative.
Rugby has for years looked longingly across the Atlantic hoping that the USA could be some sort of sleeping giant in the game.
While it would perhaps be a stretch to suggest the Eagles could experience the rapid pace of progression enjoyed by Japan in light of the news that they would be hosting in 2019 — and the slow but steady increase in soccer’s popularity after American World Cups of 1994 and 1999 is instructive here — there is no doubt that this much sought market is an area of growth for a sport that at international level has for too long felt a largely closed shop.
The US have qualified for six prior World Cups but have won only three games there, two against Japan and most recently in 2011 against Russia in a year when they were in the same pool in Ireland.
With every host nation barring England in 2015 having made the knock-out stages of the competition, it will naturally be hoped that, with a still relatively young domestic league, the national team will have improved come 2031 but this is a decision based upon a more distant future.
A first western hemisphere World Cup, it is no doubt this potentially lucrative expansion that World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont had in mind when he spoke of “the unparalleled opportunity to accelerate the growth and impact of rugby globally”.
He continued: “The confirmation of host locations is supported by a new partnership approach to event delivery, that will power long-term, sustainable development, including in the USA and across the women’s game, enabling the sport to realise its global potential on and off the field, driving significant social and economic benefits for host nations.
“Today is a landmark moment for the sport, and an exciting development for fans. I would like to congratulate everyone involved in making this dream a reality as we look to deliver a truly global sport for all.”
With England also confirmed as the host of the next women’s World Cup, every edition of the tournament is accounted for until the men’s competition in 2035.
Meanwhile, Ireland have confirmed their Autumn schedule for this year with games against South Africa, Fiji and Australia.
The Springboks will come to Dublin for a first time since 2018, a trip that saw them succumb to a record 38-3 defeat.
Since then, of course, they have gone on to lift the Webb Ellis trophy and beat the British and Irish Lions. The clash on November 5, which will kick-off at 5.30pm, will also be a last meeting between the teams before they tackle each other in the pool stages of the World Cup in France next year.
A week after Rassie Erasmus’s side are in Dublin, Fiji will be the visitors to the Aviva, with that game kicking off at 1pm, before things are wrapped up with a tussle against Australia on November 19 at 8pm.