There will be 13 stadia used for the 48 matches of the Rugby World Cup 2015. The commercial imperatives for the hosts in selecting venues were:
- maximise gate revenues (big stadia for big matches)
- grow the game’s long-term audience (regional spread)
- spread the team bases around the place to lower costs (regional spread), and
- maximise home advantage for England (see below).
Put all those in the mixer and you get this:
That’s a fair spread for the regions, from Exeter (Sandy Park) in the south-west to Newcastle (St James’ Park) in the north-east. Plenty of opportunity for the television commentators to make jokes about regional accents.
Here’s the thing, though: you need to remember that rugby is about the 4th most significant sport in England. Soccer is first, daylight is 2nd and 3rd, and then comes rugby.
Which means that just four of the venues are what you might call primarily rugby grounds (Twickenham, Millennium, Kingsholm, Sandy Park), two are so-called “multipurpose” (Wembley, Olympic), and the other seven are soccer pitches. That is going to have an impact on the run-off areas beyond the touch and dead-ball lines, which might have an impact on the way games are played there. On the plus side, the crowds will be very close to the action.
Let’s start with the four ‘rugby’ grounds.
South-West London, 81,605 capacity, grass
Yes, it’s the “home” of rugby, which is to say it’s the headquarters of the Rugby Union, and where England having been playing test matches since 1910. The Poms have been trying to talk it up as a fortress for the home team, and certainly it will be a formidable place for visitors in the latter part of the tournament.
The “biggest dedicated rugby ground in the world” gets ten matches, including the opener and the final:
- England vs. Fiji (Pool A, 7.00am Saturday 19 September NZST)
- France vs. Italy (Pool D, 7.00am Sunday 20 September NZST)
- England vs. Wales (Pool A, 8.00am Sunday 27 September NZDT)
- England vs. Australia (Pool A, 8.00am Sunday 4 October NZDT)
- Australia vs. Wales (Pool A, 4.45am Sunday 11 October NZDT)
- Quarterfinal 1: Winner Pool B vs Runner-up Pool A (4.00am Sunday 18 October NZDT)
- Quarterfinal 4: Winner Pool A vs Runner-up Pool B (4.00am Monday 19 October NZDT)
- Semifinal 1: Winner QF1 vs Winner QF2 (4.00am Sunday 25 October NZDT)
- Semifinal 2: Winner QF3 vs Winner QF4 (5.00am Monday 26 October NZDT)
- Final: Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2 (5.00am Sunday 1 November NZDT)
The All Blacks would first play at Twickenham in the semifinals, if they proceed that far (turn around three times and spit to beat the hoodoo). All the other major teams (except Argentina who are in our pool) would have been there for a pool match or quarter-final. England will play all of their matches at Twickenham, except for their game against Uruguay which will be played in Manchester.
Fair enough, that’s how home advantage works for the hosts. The interesting question is how it will work out for Australia and Wales. They both have to play England there, and then they play each other. That match will be the big one in the Pool of Death, and it’s likely to be swamped by the singing of the boyos from the Valleys.
Cardiff, 74,154 capacity, grass/synthetic hybrid
The Welsh capital gets 8 matches, but only two of them involving Wales. (Geez, those Poms can hold a grudge.)
The good news is that in 2014 the Welsh-wallahs replaced the awful palletised grass surface with a hybrid surface that combines grass and artificial fibres. It also has a movable roof to keep out the fierce Welsh sun.
The bad news is that it’s still the Millennium Stadium, the place of terror-filled nightmares for the All Blacks in Rugby World Cups: losing the 2007 quarter-final against France, and the 1999 3rd/4th playoff to South Africa. We have never won a World Cup game there.
- Ireland vs. Canada (Pool D, 1.30am Sunday 20 September NZST)
- Wales vs. Uruguay (Pool A, 1.30am Monday 21 September NZST)
- Australia vs Fiji (Pool A, 3.45am Thursday 24 September NZST)
- Wales vs. Fiji (Pool A, 4.45am Friday 2 October NZDT)
- New Zealand vs. Georgia (Pool C, 8.00am Saturday 3 October NZDT)
- France vs. Ireland (Pool D, 4.45am 12 October NZDT)
- Quarterfinal 2: Winner Pool C vs Runner-up Pool D (8.00am Sunday 18 October NZDT)
- Quarterfinal 3: Winner Pool D vs Runner-up Pool C (1.00am Monday 19 October NZDT)
The big pool match will be France vs. Ireland which should determine the finishing order in Pool D. I just remind you that in 2007 the All Blacks were seeded to be playing Ireland in the quarter-final at Millennium, and we ended up playing France because they lost to Argentina in the opening match and … and … and.
The good news for the All Blacks is that we should be able to shake off the hoodoo against Georgia before we have a quarter-final there but … but … but. Those match schedulers are playing with our heads.
Gloucester, 16,500 capacity, grass
The home of Gloucester rugby, and an early venue for England rugby tests (Wales beat the old foe 13-3 there in 1900), it’s still got a large standing area known as “The Shed” along the northern touchline. The All Blacks played here in the 1991 World Cup, beating the United States 46-6.
They get four pool matches:
- Tonga vs. Georgia (Pool C, 11.00pm Saturday 19 September NZST)
- Scotland vs. Japan (Pool B, 1.30am Thursday 24 September NZST)
- Argentina vs. Georgia (Pool C, 3.45am Saturday 26 September NZST)
- USA vs. Japan (Pool B, 8.00am Monday 12 October NZDT)
None of these matches are likely to be critical in sorting out the quarter-finalists (unless Scotland have seriously lost the plot), but they will all have a real impact on determining third place finishes in Pools B and C, which as you will remember MrsDavy is important for qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019.
Exeter, 12,300 capacity, grass/synthetic hybrid
A trip to Devon for some of the less-fancied teams, with just 3 matches to be played at the home ground of the Exeter Chiefs.
- Tonga vs Namibia (Pool C, 4.45am Wednesday 30 September NZDT)
- Namibia vs. Georgia (Pool C, 8.00am Thursday 8 October NZDT)
- Italy vs. Romania (Pool D, 2.30am Monday 12 October NZDT)
Tonga, Namibia and Georgia are in Pool C, which also includes New Zealand and Argentina. That last match could be a cracker, with Romania targeting it to get a third-place pool finish. Depending on how other matches in the pool have gone, Italy might be fighting for their lives or fighting for a quarter-final spot.
A note on the dates/times given:
I have used timeanddate.com to convert the local kick-off times into the New Zealand time. It’s a bit of a schemozzle because New Zealand Daylight Saving Time begins at 2.00am on Sunday 27 September and British Summer Time ends at 2.00am on Sunday 25 October. Oy.
If you’re living somewhere else, I strongly recommend that you do your own conversion starting with the official fixture list from RWC2015.