Rugby World Cup organizers: Show will be OK without England

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Posted: Oct 12, 2015 11:50 AM
Rugby World Cup organizers: Show will be OK without England

LONDON (AP) — England's failure to make the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals all of a sudden doesn't seem so bad for the people running the show.

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper created a stir in March when he took to social media following England's group-stage exit at the Cricket World Cup in Australia to say, "England fail to exit pool in World Cup ... Not the words we want to hear" during the Rugby World Cup.

It infuriated fans in Wales, which was grouped with former champions England and Australia,, Fiji and Uruguay in Pool A, the toughest of the tournament.

Gosper said on Monday the local fans had been resolute, though, and doom and gloom didn't necessarily follow England's elimination following back-to-back losses to the Welsh and the Wallabies.

"Most tournaments around the world would like the hosts to do well enough to keep that momentum going in the host country," Gosper explained in a briefing at Twickenham to review the pool stage. "But my sense is this is a very mature and philosophical sporting market. They love their sport, their team may be out, but they love the event, and we are seeing that already."

Gosper, an Australian, said ticket sales and broadcasting figures mean the Rugby World Cup "is still tracking to be the best we've delivered to date."

The quarterfinals next weekend are all north vs. south affairs, with defending champion New Zealand against France in a rematch of the 2011 final, Australia vs. Scotland, Ireland against Argentina, and South Africa against Wales.

While England coach Stuart Lancaster's failures and future are being hotly debated in local media, attention elsewhere has focused on the games, in which there has been plenty of thrillers, tries, comebacks, and upsets, not the least being Japan's 34-32 win over South Africa.

Eddie Jones and his Japan squad lit up the pool stage with three wins, which has always been enough to qualify for the quarterfinals but not this time for the 2019 World Cup host.

Only 800,000 people in Japan tuned into the before-dawn TV broadcast for the South Africa game, but that victory triggered massive audience growth in the next games in Japan, and elsewhere. World Rugby said 25 million watched on TV in Japan when the Brave Blossoms beat Samoa, and Gosper predicted the figure would have been much higher for Sunday's game against the United States if the Japanese had still been in quarterfinal contention. That ended when Scotland held off Samoa 36-33 the previous afternoon.

Japan's obvious progress underscored a marked improvement in the quality of the overall competition, with big cuts in the margins between the top- and the medium-ranked teams.

Here's some things to know after the 40 matches in the pool stage:

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MIND THE GAP: The average winning margin in the pool phase was 24 points, down from 28 in 2011. The average margin in matches featuring Tier One vs. Tier Two teams was down to 30 from 36. The biggest margin was South Africa's 64-0 win over the United States. Namibia, which was pounded 142-0 by Australia in 2003 and 87-0 by South Africa in 2011, crossed for tries against New Zealand and Argentina, and picked up its first ever competition point from a one-point loss to Georgia.

Ball-in-play time increased to 43 percent, while the number of tries scored decreased from an average of 6.1 per match in 2011 to 5.8, demonstrating the improving defensive lines.

TICKETS PLEASE: Local organizers say ticket sales exceeded 2.41 million — 97 percent of capacity — which is a Rugby World Cup record. More than 1.8 million people attended the 40 pool matches. Also, 85,000 tickets have been re-sold through the tournament's official website

Broadcasting figures were peaking, Gosper said, particularly in Japan, which now owns the single-nation record for a Rugby World Cup match.

SCHEDULE: Complaints from some Tier Two nations about the scheduling of their matches, particularly the dreaded four-day turnaround, have forced organizers to review planning for 2019. "It's not perfect — there's more work to be done. It's a difficult problem, fitting 48 matches into six weeks," Rugby World Cup Ltd. spokesman Alan Giplin said.

MORE, AND BETTER: Tier Two nations are pushing for more tests against the top teams, and World Rugby is backing the calls. The All Blacks visited Samoa this year for the first time, the Wallabies played in the United States, and both teams have played in Japan in recent years. More of that is wanted.

"We recognize for Tier Two to progress, they have to play against Tier One teams more often," Gosper said. "Our desire is to have as much as we can within a calendar."

Gosper said there were commercial realities to come into play, but "our intention is to gain as much competition between Tier One and Tier Two as we can."

THE DRAW: After all the criticism of the 2015 draw being conducted three years ago, rendering the current rankings almost meaningless, there's no guarantee the draw for 2019 will be made any closer to the tournament. World Rugby said the fact Tokyo was hosting the 2020 Olympics might make it imperative to hold the draw early to give Japanese fans and broadcasters certainty on the schedule.