European road to RWC 2015 begins
With three years to go until Rugby World Cup 2015 in England, the race to book a place at the sport’s showpiece event will gather pace in the coming weeks as European qualifying gets underway.
Hungary host Bulgaria in Kecskemét on Saturday in the opening match, with the Webb Ellis Cup set to be on hand following a Rugby World Cup road trip across Europe.
The famous trophy will be joined at different stages by England Rugby 2015 Ambassadors Will Greenwood, Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dallaglio, while Olivier Magne will add a French flavour to proceedings.
The tour began at Rugby School – the home of the sport – on September 25 and will take in stops at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the grave of William Webb Ellis in Menton and a stopover in Monaco before arriving in Budapest prior to the weekend’s qualifier.
Dallaglio will then drive the Webb Ellis Cup to the match, having also been on hand to see Mexico launch the overall qualifying campaign back in March.
Rugby World Cup 2015 offers another chance for Europe to savour the tournament after the success of the 2007 edition in France, with up to 400,000 overseas fans expected to make the trip to England for what will be the biggest Rugby World Cup in history.
An estimated 2.9 million tickets will be available for matches and the qualifying race will ensure that every rugby-playing nation, and their fans, has a chance of making it to the top table.
European qualifying will feature 32 teams across six divisions of the FIRA-AER European Nations Cup, with a total of 105 matches set to be played. The qualifying race is already underway in Africa, Asia and the Americas, with 43 matches having taken place and further action to come when Europe and Oceania join the fray.
Tournament organisers are committed to ensuring the eighth Rugby World Cup is not just a tournament for England, but an event that engages the European Rugby community and delivers the platform for the ongoing development of the Game across the region.
Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “The start of the European qualification process is another major landmark for the delivery of Rugby World Cup 2015 in England and a tournament that is on track to be a success on and off the field, creating a lasting legacy for Rugby throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and the continued global development of Rugby.”
“We are experiencing unprecedented growth in Rugby in Europe with the Game beginning to really take off outside of its traditional heartlands. The likes of Moldova, Ukraine and Belgium continue to make giant strides in terms of the competitiveness of their national teams on the world stage, but also in the numbers of men, women and children playing the Game at every level.”
“European qualification has always been fiercely competitive and the 2015 process will be no different. We have a fascinating two years of matches ahead of us and it will be compelling viewing to see whether a new nation will follow in the footsteps of Romania, Georgia, Russia, Spain and Portugal and make their Rugby World Cup debut.”
Bulgaria may start as favourites having edged Hungary 29-26 in a European Nations Cup play-off on home soil in June, but with only six places separating them in the IRB World Rankings another close encounter looks on the cards, particularly with the incentive of winning the first qualifier in the region.