Rugby World Cup 2015 set to raise the bar
I am often asked what my favourite Rugby World Cup memory is and I genuinely struggle to pick just one from the seven exciting and sometimes dramatic Rugby World Cups to date.
Each tell their own unique story, their stars, their unforgettable moments and each have played a significant role in driving forward the development of Rugby on and off the field.
The honour of handing the Webb Ellis Cup to Nelson Mandela in 1995 and witnessing history being made as sport united a nation and delivered political change, was very special.
Performing the role of chairman of the France 2007 organising committee and taking Rugby to new fans across the country was an incredible honour.
Witnessing how New Zealand 2011 inspired a nationwide festival that showcased the country, its culture, heritage and deep love of Rugby so very well is also a highlight.
I have been privileged to see the world’s best players showcase their sublime talents on the field from Lomu to Lima, Pienaar to Pichot and Wilkinson to Williams.
There have been so many unforgettable moments and feats of character and that is why I am so excited about England 2015.
Preparation is on track and an incredible partnership has been cemented between tournament organisers England Rugby 2015, owners Rugby World Cup Limited and Host Union the RFU.
It is the strength of that relationship and the abundance of organisational talent and experience that has delivered a recipe for success.
We can look forward to a balanced match schedule, a blend of iconic Rugby, football and Olympic venues, world-class training venues and host cities that will provide the backdrop for a truly nationwide festival.
It is certainly exciting for the teams, 400,000 expectant visiting fans, the people of England and the global Rugby family.
Hopes for RWC 2015
So, with two years to go, what are my hopes for England 2015?
Well, on the field it promises to be the most competitive tournament to date thanks to an equitable match schedule and strong IRB investment in and support of the up and coming teams.
We are working hard with our Tier Two Unions, the likes of Samoa, Georgia and Namibia, to provide them with the support they need to maximise the Rugby World Cup opportunity.
The success of previous Rugby World Cups is enabling the IRB to invest £180 million in rugby development at all levels thanks mainly to a strong commercial programme.
We are delighted to have such strong and active Worldwide Partners in Heineken, Societe Generale and Land Rover, all with a long association with the sport and passionate about its values and development role.
We are on track to lock down the remaining partners by the end of the year, delivering a truly impressive inventory of Partners, Sponsors and Suppliers.
This confidence in the Rugby World Cup brand and record investment means more competitions, regular competitive Test matches, high performance centres, artificial surfaces and training and education programmes for our Tier Two Unions.
All of this is geared towards ensuring that the teams are in the best possible shape by the time they reach our showcase event and have the stage to perform and project their incredible potential.
If Rugby World Cup 2011 was the most competitive tournament to date, then by providing Tier Two teams with longer preparation time to Tier One matches, equal to their opponents, which should further boost performance.
Multiple benefits for host nation
Off the field, Rugby World Cup 2015 will engage a sports-mad nation from the stadium and armchair to the field, capture the imagination, and bring more men, women and children to participate in Rugby.
It will certainly deliver multiple benefits for the host nation. Benefits that will range from the experience of engagement and that all important feel good factor to the economic benefits of tourism and trade.
Rugby World Cup is, of course, about Rugby. England 2015 will have Rugby at heart and I anticipate that this tournament will provide the sport with a further springboard to grow, to reach new audiences, attract new participants and deliver the funds that will drive record investment in the sport at all levels across our 117 national federations.
But above all, I hope that everyone will join in and have fun.
The British love a major event and I am sure that England 2015 will build on what was so successful about the London 2012 Olympics and give it a nationwide Rugby twist.
I have no doubt that England will be ready and excited to welcome the world with open arms to a celebration of the host nation, Rugby and its character-building values.