On September 18, the 2015 Rugby World Cup will kick off in the electric atmosphere of the 82,000-capacity Twickenham Stadium, the legendary home of English rugby. After months of intense training and tumultuous warm-up matches, 20 teams from around the world will battle it out over six grueling weeks to claim the cherished Webb Ellis trophy, in a competition that Welsh star Jamie Roberts has referred to as “the Olympics” of rugby union. With the contest returning to our shores after 2011’s New Zealand sojourn, this handy guide will get you up to speed on one of the world’s most explosive sporting tournaments.
The Rugby World Cup is a pool-based tournament comprising four groups, each with five teams – who’ll play each other once over the first three weeks to compete for points. The two teams that top the table of each pool will then go into the knock-out stage – quarter-finals, semi-finals and, of course, the tournament-deciding final.
The first RWC took place in 1987 and has taken place every four years since. Out of the seven contests so far, only one Northern Hemisphere team has lifted the trophy… Aside from England’s much-lauded victory in 2003, the Webb Ellis cup has resided exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere – passed around between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – for the past three decades.
The pools were decided in December 2012 based on the world rankings at the time and each one largely includes an even split between what governing body World Rugby refers to as ‘Tier One’ (big-hitters like New Zealand) and ‘Tier Two’ (minnows such as Uruguay) teams.
That is, of course, apart from the affectionately nicknamed ‘Pool of Death’, which is sure to shake up the 2015 competition. Thanks to a disastrous string of international defeats in late 2012, Wales drastically slipped down the rankings just before the pools were drawn. The result? Pool A now contains three of the world’s best teams – Wales, Australia and tournament hosts England. Only two can make it out and progress in the tournament, meaning there’ll be one big upset early into the proceedings… Expect fireworks.
Rugby World Cup matches will take place in 12 venues across England (and one – the impressive Millennium Stadium – in Wales). The fortress that is Twickenham will house the majority of England’s matches, as well as the all-important semi-finals and final, with the throng of enthusiastic local support giving the host team a distinct home advantage. Wembley Stadium and the former Olympic Stadium in Stratford complete the London triumvirate.
One of the aims of this tournament, though, is to increase the profile of rugby union among potential new fans all around the country. To do this, the RWC 2015 is spreading out from the capital and making use of England’s plethora of large-capacity football stadiums: Manchester’s Old Trafford, Leeds’ Elland Road and Newcastle’s St James’ Park, to name a few.
Reigning champs New Zealand – aka the mighty All Blacks – look odds on to nab the trophy once again – their recent world cup warm-up match against Australia showed just how powerful and clinical they can be when they’re firing on all cylinders. This tournament is also likely to mark the international retirement of All Blacks legends Dan Carter and captain Richie McCaw, so they’ll be looking to go out with a bang.
Don’t count out Australia though, coming into the RWC off the back of a recent series win in The Rugby Championship (an annual tournament that serves as the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent of the Six Nations). England will be determined to succeed on home soil and have a huge local fan base spurring them on, while South Africa, France and Ireland will be coming out fighting and could all provide a formidable challenge. Wales were recently dealt a huge blow with significant injuries to two of their key players – full-back Leigh Halfpenny and scrum-half Rhys Webb – during a recent warm-up match against Italy, but will be hoping to regain the form they displayed at the 2011 tournament (in which they reached the semi-final).
In other words? It’s all to play for.