Q&A: ER 2015 Ambassador Will Greenwood

(Other) Thursday 5 April 2012
Q&A: ER 2015 Ambassador Will Greenwood
Will Greenwood celebrates England's finest hour at RWC 2003

England fans will never forget the images of Will Greenwood celebrating with Jonny Wilkinson immediately after his last gasp drop goal won the Rugby World Cup 2003 Final in extra time.

The scorer of 31 tries in his 55 Tests for England, Greenwood is a passionate supporter of grass roots rugby and can now be found on the sidelines as a TV pundit.

How did your role as an England Rugby 2015 Ambassador come about?

In 2009, myself and Lawrence Dallaglio were invited by Francis Baron (former RFU Chief Executive) and Paul Vaughan (England Rugby 2015 CEO) to be part of the bid team. Lawrence’s speech was about the passion of English sporting fans and mine was about the legacy that the Rugby World Cup 2015 hoped to deliver.

We went to Dublin, spoke to all member nations of the IRB, and a couple of months later we found we’d got it. Most previous World Cups have used ambassadors – people like Sean Fitzpatrick and Jonah Lomu were New Zealand’s in 2011. Paul Vaughan then wanted to put his ambassadorial team together, so myself, Lawrence, Jonny Wilkinson and Maggie Alphonsi were given the nod.

You’ve played in Rugby World Cups. How has this role compared?
Rugby players are simple folk: give them the ball, give them a pitch, tell them to tackle the bloke in the red shirt or pass the ball down the line ... that’s it. Here, the level of detail, the level of planning required is just unbelievable. There was complete, baffled ignorance from my part! You just turn up, there’s a great stadium, there we go, right? Not quite.

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How important is the legacy of RWC 2015?
When I gave my speech at the bid I began by saying that I’d started at Preston Grasshoppers, and then at Waterloo ... and that the England changing room on a World Cup Final night was no different. My view is that rugby is a wonderful collective team sport that calls on all shapes and sizes. It would be criminal of us to win this World Cup bid, put on a fantastic campaign, provide a very competitive English side, but not to take full advantage of that by accessing more players and showcasing what a wonderful family sport it is. 

We understand that football is the number one sport but we want to get more children involved. And not just the children. We understand there is a fallout in numbers when the kids get to 16 in rugby – like other sports we’re fighting to maintain levels of participation. The specifics are that we want every rugby club to have one more team than they have now from 2015 onwards.

What lessons do you think were learned from New Zealand?
The local participation, the adoption of teams by local communities, the full houses for the minnows as they might be called, the noise, the energy – New Zealand really was a stadium of four million people. We have a slightly different challenge in that we are a football nation with cricket and rugby and athletics just tucked in behind. But we are sports mad so if we can deliver full stadiums and generate the buzz like they did in New Zealand, it will be amazing.

What excites you about RWC 2015?
What do we have that New Zealand doesn’t have? We have access to 70,000-seat stadiums. We’re looking at using Old Trafford. Think about it: fill Old Trafford for pool games? Wow. It’s a huge challenge to get the pricing structure right because we want it to be inclusive. We don’t want this to be the corporate World Cup – we can sell that a million times over. We want to get out to the outposts. That’s why I think it’s a cracking idea they’re exploring at the moment England internationals being played up at Old Trafford. I was lucky enough to play New Zealand there in 1997: again, wow. Let’s get it out there round the country now.

How would you sell the idea of a Rugby World Cup to people who have perhaps ignored the sport up to now?
When we landed in Heathrow at five o’clock in the morning in November 2003, there were 10,000 people. Five weeks before that you could have polled 90 per cent of those guys and they wouldn’t have cared. And yet through the performance levels, through giving the fans a chance by setting ourselves out as the best team in the world in the build-up, you get that level of interest.

Right now we’ve got the England Under 20s who keep making world cup finals, so there’s the talent coming through. We’ve got a coach who’s prepared to back the youth and the talent, and we’re going to have packed houses, colour and family occasions. We’re going to see a team on home soil push itself to its very limits in the nation’s cause. That’s what our supporters want.