World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont and other dignitaries gathered in Paris on Monday, four days before France and New Zealand get Rugby World Cup 2023 underway at the Stade de France.
French Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, World Rugby Chief Executive Officer Alan Gilpin, Jacques Rivoal, Chairman of Rugby World Cup France 2023 and Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Florian Grill also attended the opening conference.
And with France having been brilliant hosts in 2007, Beaumont is confident that the country can deliver another magnificent tournament that is fitting of the sport’s 200th anniversary.
"It was 200 years ago that our sport was born and there can be no better place to celebrate our birthday than here in France,” he said.
"We know that this nation will be a magnificent host, not just here in Paris but the length and breadth of a nation that loves major events and loves rugby.
"We believe Rugby World Cup 2023 will be rugby’s ultimate celebration of togetherness. And why? We’ve received incredible support from the highest office to the smallest villages. Never has a nation been so ready and so excited to host.
"We have a record number of international fans – some 600,000 fans will be coming to experience the best of rugby and the best of France.
"We have seen some incredible welcomes for the teams including 12,000 greeting Ireland in Tours. I was lucky enough to be in Versailles last night, Paris on Saturday and Lyon on Friday. They were unbelievable, the welcome and the support from the local community.
"The stage is set, now it’s down to the teams to perform. I think it’s fair to say that the action will be compelling, spectacular and unpredictable.
"Indeed it will be an event of firsts. We welcome Chile for the first time, the first time we have welcomed three South American teams. Portugal making their first appearance since they last played here in France in 2007.”
Creating a legacy
Beaumont also praised the collaborative approach adopted by all parties to make Rugby World Cup 2023 the biggest and best yet, while confirming the qualification criteria for the 2027 tournament in Australia.
"We also believe that the Rugby World Cup should be about more than an exceptional event. We should project our values, make an impactful contribution to society and inspire new players and fans,” he said.
"I would like to congratulate our friends on the organising committee, the FFR and government for their leading and impactful initiatives under the Rugby Accord banner.
"Today, I’m delighted to confirm the launch of our We Are Rugby promotion, showcasing the sport’s collective commitment as an inclusive, respectful tournament. And as we look to the future and continue to work with partners to create a sustainable, impactful and equitable global calendar we can confirm that the top three teams from each pool in this tournament will qualify directly for Rugby World Cup 2027 in Australia.
"We are also committed to continuing to work with our unions and partners in the game to deliver a global calendar and a competitive structure. That will enable more nations to have more opportunities to qualify and compete in the Rugby World Cup. But more about that as the tournament progresses.
"I would like to thank the French government, the host cities, the FFR, France 2023 organising committee and most of all the fans and the French public for putting on what will be absolutely a special show.
"We have enjoyed a superb partnership with everyone involved, from the highest office to the thousands of volunteers ready to make every single game a great experience.
"So, the stage is set, the teams are ready, France is ready, let’s get this wonderful Rugby World Cup started."
Rugby World Cup 2023 is the first major global event in what promises to be an exceptional 12 months for sport in France with the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games to follow in 2024.
"To be at the stage we’re at, with the excitement we’ve got, is truly amazing,” said Alan Gilpin, Chief Executive Officer for World Rugby.
"I’m a bit of a veteran of these things now and I don’t think there has ever been a Rugby World Cup, ever been an event in rugby that has been as eagerly anticipated, with the excitement that’s building not just here in France but around the world for this tournament.
“I think we’re going to see the biggest engagement of any rugby event ever for this tournament and that allows us to springboard forward and to really use this moment, use this great platform as a growth driver for the game, for boys and girls, men and women around the world to enjoy rugby either as spectators, and hopefully, more people take up the game.
“We’ve just announced increases in participation in rugby around the world since the pandemic. That’s fantastic but there’s a lot more to do and this is a moment that will allow us to take that next step."
While also excited by the 48-match schedule that lies ahead, Florian Grill, FFR president, stressed that the success of the tournament would also be measured by the legacy it creates for the benefit of future generations, at home and further afield.
Grill said: “Ultimately, we aim to have 100,000 registered women in rugby in France, including 70,000 players and 30,000 managers, coaches and referees. This is considered a material part of the tournament’s legacy.
“There will also be salaried positions, thanks to the Campus 2023 programme for apprentices set up in conjunction with the government and France 2023, which will take shape in French rugby and help to structure the clubs.
“We also need to revitalise France’s ‘rugby regions’, particularly in the Overseas Territories, where at least five players in the French teams come from – as well as areas in France where the game remains insufficiently well established. We want to relaunch rugby from the bottom up.
"With government support, we aim to improve facilities, in particular accessibility for people with reduced mobility, and to increase the number of women playing rugby, because this is a real challenge. Building changing rooms for women will help increase the number of clubs that can offer women’s rugby. This is a major challenge for the future of French rugby."
Grill added: “This French team has the ability to put a smile on the face of the nation, to excite, to show that we can be united – that we can be a nation, to use the words of the President of the Republic.”