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The famous Webb Ellis Cup stole the limelight on Thursday as the iconic trophy was on show at schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) with the country preparing for the first qualifier of Rugby World Cup 2019 against Jamaica in Kingstown on Saturday.
St Mary’s Primary School in Kingstown and Barrouallie Government School received the cup to great excitement in the classrooms with the children also receiving free tickets for the match, which will take place at Arnos Vale Stadium in the SVG capital.
Also in attendance was Nigel Owens, who will referee the big game. The Welshman’s most recent test match outing as referee was at Twickenham when New Zealand beat Australia 34-17 in the 2015 decider on 31 October and he will be refereeing his 69th full international on Saturday.
Owens said: “It’s an honour to be here in St Vincent to referee the first qualifier of the next Rugby World Cup cycle and to see the excitement on the faces of the children today was really great and it brings home the fact that this really is becoming a global sport. It means so much to people to be part of the tournament, whether it’s at the very start of the qualification process here in the Caribbean or on the day of the final in Tokyo.”
Owens was part of a Get Into Rugby coaching clinic in Barrouallie and was also on hand to give tips and advice to youngsters who want to get involved in playing rugby or even refereeing, some of whom are pictured above. Get Into Rugby is World Rugby’s hugely successful mass-participation programme that introduced one million new participants to the sport in 2015 alone. The new participants were spread across no fewer than 1,750 locations in 126 unions, with more than 17,000 trained personnel delivering the various rugby activities in all six regional associations. Importantly, 37 per cent of the new participants are female, demonstrating rugby's commitment to grow the game for both genders.
SVG flanker Delon Durrant, who was also helping to deliver the Get Into Rugby clinic, said: “It’s a great achievement to play for your country and an honour to do so in a Rugby World Cup qualifier. The presence of the Webb Ellis Cup here in St Vincent is fantastic and a real motivation to stay playing the game and it will also encourage others to pick it up.
“It’s amazing to think that just a few months ago, this cup was lifted by one of the all-time greats Richie McCaw, who like me is a number seven, and now the cup is here and will be on display at our match on Saturday. Just to be in the presence of the cup is tremendous and to be part of the Rugby World Cup as a player is an achievement for me and the team.
While SVG go into Saturday’s game against Jamaica as underdogs, national coach Mike Jackson has warned the rugby world not to write off them just yet. He said: “There are a lot of people, Jamaica included, who think they’ll be coming down here for an easy game. I intend fully to make sure that is not the case and that we shake them up and give them a good game.”
The match will kick off at 14:00 (local time, GMT-4) on Saturday. Whether either of those particular teams will be playing at the next Rugby World Cup in Japan remains to be seen but the fact is both have the opportunity to do so. Indeed, every full member of World Rugby can now aspire to playing the game at the highest level.
While the opening ceremony is still three and a half years away, the Rugby World Cup 2019 begins in earnest this month. In total, the competition now features more than 90 nations. The qualifiers comprise around 200 matches, featuring in excess of 3,000 players across six continents, including the developing rugby markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China as well as USA and Mexico.
With 12 teams having secured their place at Japan 2019 courtesy of finishing in the top three of their respective pools, the remaining eight places will be determined by a process of regional and cross-regional qualifiers and, for the first time, a stand-alone round-robin repechage tournament to determine the final qualifier in 2018.