Kit McConnell: Excitement builds for RWC 2011
Only days after Romania became the 20th and final qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2011, Total Rugby Radio spoke to Kit McConnell, the IRB’s Head of Rugby World Cup, to get his thoughts on the qualifying process, the logistics for next year’s showpiece tournament in New Zealand and looking ahead to 2015 and 2019.
TOTAL RUGBY: With Romania’s qualification we now know all 20 teams ... is this where the hard work starts?
KIT MCCONNELL: First of all it is fantastic that we have got the 20th team and all of the participants now on board. It was obviously a very competitive final series between Romania and Uruguay with the first match finishing 21-21 and I was lucky enough to be in Bucharest at the weekend.
It was a fantastic occasion, a sold out venue, it was packed about an hour before kick-off. I was there with our Vice Chairman Bill Beaumont and the General Manager of Tournament Services from the 2011 Organising Committee Nigel Cass, so it was an eye opener.
It was a great experience, the atmosphere around the match was intense and exciting and obviously with Romania winning through in the end there was a huge amount of celebrations that night in Bucharest.
TR: Romania have played at every World Cup so far, we also have likes of Japan and Samoa, nations you would expect to be there but then Russia are there for the first time?
KM: It is great for Russia to be there, obviously one team has to miss out and that was Portugal this time, they were there last time and the way they performed in 2007 was an absolute credit to them and we hope Russia will be the same in terms of competitiveness and using this as a base for the growth of rugby in that country.
It is exciting times for rugby in Russia, having hosted the Junior World Rugby Trophy in May, last year with the Olympic decision, the decision to host Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Russia and now the qualification for 2011. There are some fantastic things happening there and we are looking to use 2011 and Russia’s participation to showcase rugby in that country.
TR: Do you now start working with all the teams on logistics?
KM: Obviously there are only nine months to go and it is over three years since the last World Cup and really the planning for 2011 with the teams in particular started immediately after the last one. We went through a full debrief process with all of the teams following 2007 and we have taken on board the recommendations and the lessons they came back to us with and built that into planning right the way through in regards to the tournament in New Zealand.
We have just completed our third team managers meeting. We had our first two years ago with the teams that were qualified at that time and again last year, around the November internationals, we got all the team managers that were qualified at that time together and now with Romania qualifying last weekend we were lucky enough to get all 20 of the team managers together this year.
We have just spent a day and a half with them, going over all of the planning with ourselves and the Organising Committee and they are a fantastic groups of guys, a mix of veterans who have been team managers for nearly a decade now or in some cases up to 15 years, along with some who are new to the job and in fact aren’t even starting until the new year. So it is a real mix of personalities, mix of experience and obviously a mix of the countries they represent and the teams they work with, but a good group of guys.
We are into a lot of detail now in terms of the planning, all of the logistics around their participation are locked away, obviously everything from match schedules to team hotels to flights, so we know exactly who is going to be where when and what they are doing and from this time it is really just locking in the smaller details.
TR: Yesterday saw the launch of a special Christmas ticket offer, what’s the latest news on ticketing?
KM: Phase 2 has continued the strong ticketing process we had for Phase 1. In Phase 1 we sold over 500,000 tickets and there were people from I think around 85 countries around the world that bought those tickets and 100,000 of those were sold to overseas buyers. It is just an indication of the global interest in the event and the numbers of people that will be travelling to the Rugby World Cup next year.
We are well into the second phase of public ticketing at the moment, which is the single tickets, so tickets to every match bar the semi finals and Final can be bought individually. Again, huge amount of interest around the All Black matches, the matches at Eden Park which will be the number one venue for the tournament, and we are starting to see that demand cascade down to a number of the small matches, so it has very much caught on internationally and we are going through a number of sales phases at the moment that are focused on the New Zealand market, but also the international one, so at any time anyone can go onto rugbyworldcup.com and check the availability of tickets there.
TR: All eyes are on 2011 now, but you’re also making plans for 2015 and also in fact 2019 in Japan?
KM: Absolutely, the decisions that we took in July last year seem like yesterday, but in fact it was almost 18 months ago that we selected those two hosts and time goes by very quickly. When you look at the time scales for England, we selected them six years ahead of time, and when you think that nearly 18 months of those six years have gone and the clock is ticking and in about 11 months England will be the current Rugby World Cup hosts for 2015.
We have had a number of meetings with the both Unions, the English and the Japanese, over the last 18 months since they were selected. We have got strategic plans in place with those two hosts, linking together the goals of the government, the host Union, the Japanese and English Unions, ourselves in terms of the IRB’s Strategic Plan and the respective regional associations of rugby.
For the first time we have brought together those goals to try and identify the strategic goals for the tournament specifically, to make sure that we maximise the legacy out of those. We have been doing a lot of work with each of them and around the tournament in New Zealand next year we will have strong representation from both those future hosts, both in operational positions in the case of England, things like match commissioner and match press officers, also government representation from both and really it is the last chance England have before hosting it to observe it and one of the two chances Japan will have.
TR: The November internationals have been competitive and thrown up some interesting results, which can only bode well for the World Cup?
KM: Yes it has been mouth-watering series of internationals in November in Europe. It is the last time that the two hemispheres will really come together, next year they move into their annual tournaments if you like, the Six Nations, the Tri Nations, the Pacific Nations Cup and the other tournaments like that, so it is the final time these teams will play each other across the hemispheres prior to Rugby World Cup.
In that regard it has been fascinating. We have seen Australia win against New Zealand in Hong Kong, a resurgence of England with a brand of rugby that has everyone excited, South Africa again proved that when their backs are to the wall they can still beat anyone in the world and they are the defending champions of the Rugby World Cup after all.
You look at the emergence of the Pacific Islands again and just being nine or 10 months out from the Rugby World Cup it is fantastic to see the way that these teams if you like are re-emerging on the international stage and the competitiveness around the tournament we will have next year.
If you look at some of the pools, the way Tonga performed given limited opportunities this year, the way they performed in November doesn’t make any of those matches against New Zealand or France next year a foregone conclusion by any means. When you look at Pool D in particular, the way Samoa and Fiji have performed in November, their matches along with South Africa and Wales and Namibia thrown in there, I think every match in that pool will be a testing one.
It has been a fascinating November and really whetted the appetite for the tournament.
TR: New Zealand have had a great year and the host nation must be getting very excited?
KM: Absolutely. New Zealand will finish the year ranked number one, which is so often the case in recent years, but I think their performances throughout the Tri Nations, through some of the June internationals and now into the November series have been absolutely outstanding.
And it is not just New Zealand as a team, look at the young talent that is continually coming through New Zealand rugby and the Rugby World Cup offers the greatest showcase of all for that young talent coming through.
As always there are always nerves in any Host Union building up to a Rugby World Cup about the performance of the team and the expectations on that team but to finish as the number one ranked team is probably the place you would like to be going into a Rugby World Cup year.