Rugby World Cup 2019 organizers on Tuesday said the stage is set for a “transformational” tournament as host nation Japan prepares to raise the curtain on the event this weekend.
“After 10 years of meticulous preparation, the waiting is over,” World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said at a news conference in Tokyo to mark the opening of the tournament, which brings the Rugby World Cup to Asia for the first time.
“The stage is set for what will be a very special and a transformational tournament that will accelerate rugby’s global reach and development,” he said. “Never has a tournament been so eagerly anticipated, and never has a host nation been so excited to embrace our sport. Over the next six weeks, we will embrace the very best of rugby and also the very best of Japan.”
Japan kicks off the ninth edition of the quadrennial Rugby World Cup in the opening game against Russia at Tokyo Stadium on Friday, marking the start of a six-week competition that will see 20 teams competing at 12 venues around the country in a bid to reach the final in Yokohama on Nov. 2.
Ninety-six percent of the matchday tickets have been sold and around 400,000 overseas fans are expected to arrive in Japan, and Rugby World Cup 2019 Organizing Committee Chairman Fujio Mitarai is confident that the tournament is ready to welcome them.
“Rugby fans all over the world have been impatient for the start of Rugby World Cup 2019, and we now have three days to go,” he said. “This is going to be the first-ever Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia. The hosting decision was made back in 2009, and since then the organizing committee has pulled out all the stops to prepare. We have done test after test and we are now completely prepared to host the event.
“Tickets have sold very well,” he said. “One of the major goals of the organizing committee was to completely fill the stadiums for all 48 matches. I’m confident that goal can be achieved.”
The tournament is expected to be one of the most evenly matched in Rugby World Cup history, with two-time defending champion New Zealand, current world No. 1 Ireland, and former winners England, South Africa and Australia all expected to make a serious challenge for the Webb Ellis Cup.
“We’re confident that all the ingredients are in place for a very compelling and competitive tournament,” said World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. “A World Cup has never been so eagerly awaited, and never has the competition appeared so open, which is great for fans. In the last month alone, three teams have occupied top spot in the world rankings. To put that into context, prior to the tournament, only three teams have ever topped the rankings since they began in 2003.”
Gosper also backed tournament referees to apply the rules consistently and fairly, after World Rugby’s refereeing chief, Alain Rolland, warned players Monday that they will be given yellow and red cards for high tackles without hesitation.
“There was a meeting this morning, and all of the head coaches were there, all of the referees were in the room,” said Gosper. “There is good understanding — there is not always agreement but there is understanding — behind the decisions. This is the fittest, best-prepared group of match officials that we’ve ever had. They’ve never been supported by so much technology.
“Everything is in place for as much consistency as possible. Of course, there will be the odd hiccup — there is always is — but we think that this group of match officials is the best prepared we’ve ever had.”
Organizers also reassured overseas fans visiting Japan for the tournament that they will not run out of beer. Fears had been raised in the build-up that Japanese venue chiefs and bar owners would underestimate the scale of rugby fans’ thirst, with some 1.9 million liters of beer being consumed at fan zones and match venues at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
“For us, it was about educating the venues and the cities here about what an international rugby event looks like,” said World Rugby Chief Operating Officer Alan Gilpin. “We have an unbelievable, brilliant, loyal traveling audience, and they drink a lot of beer. And they make a lot of noise and they’re great for our sport, and it was just about getting that right. We have got that right.”