TOKYO — Organizers have marked 100 days to go before the opening of the Rugby World Cup by saying the challenges of staging the sport’s showpiece event in a non-traditional rugby nation have largely been overcome, most particularly with ticket sales.
The Sept. 20 to Nov. 2 tournament will feature 20 teams playing across 12 cities stretching from Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido to Kyushu in the southwest.
“Obviously, there was a bit of a language and cultural challenge early on,” World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said Wednesday. “There was probably not a lot of big-event experience here other than the 2002 (soccer) World Cup…but I think those challenges have dissipated over time.”
It’s the first time the event will be held outside of the traditional rugby strongholds, having started in 1987 with a Rugby World Cup held jointly by Australia and New Zealand. The tournament has also been hosted across Britain and Ireland, France and South Africa.
Ticket sales were a big concern early on but according to organizers, about 5.5 million applications have already been made for 1.8 million available tickets. World Rugby said in a statement that 80 per cent of available tickets have been sold with unprecedented demand from fans in more than 170 countries.
Organizers also see the tournament as a chance to tap into the vast potential of the Asian market.
The popularity of the sport has grown since Japan stunned two-time champion South Africa at the 2015 World Cup in England in what was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.
Japan is in Pool A with Ireland, Scotland, Russia and Samoa. Another impressive showing by the host nation would go a long way in contributing to the success of the tournament.
“Japan can surprise you as they often do,” Gosper said. “We obviously like surprises in World Rugby, it’s great for the tournament to have an underdog knock off one of the favourites as Japan illustrated at the last World Cup. It can have an incredible effect on the tournament.”
One of the things that organizers can do little to guard against is the high heat and humidity that is common in Japan in September.
“It’s all about acclimatizing yourself wherever you play,” said Wales scrumhalf Shane Williams. “Knowing about the conditions will be important. I’m sure the Welsh camp would have addressed that and had them working in tough conditions back home…not that that we get that weather in Wales.”
New Zealand, which has won the last two tournaments, is in Pool B with South Africa, Italy, Namibia and Canada. Pool C is made up of England, France, Argentina, the United States and Tonga. Australia, Wales, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay are in Pool D.
By The Associated Press