TOKYO (Reuters) - With a little under 500 days to go until the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, tournament director Alan Gilpin believes Japan — the first nation outside of rugby’s traditional heartland to host the event — is right on track to stage a “great” event.
In autumn last year, Gilpin expressed nervousness at the challenges that still lay ahead for organisers, yet he now believes huge strides have been taken towards hosting a successful tournament.
“I genuinely think we are right where we want to be,” Gilpin told Reuters on Friday.
“It is exciting to see it coming to life and we are confident it will be a great tournament next year.
“Six months ago we had some concerns, particularly around ensuring the environment for the teams was going to be what it needed it be for rugby’s leading competition — the very best.”
To alleviate those fears, World Rugby put forward new recommendations and demanded more world-class options for team bases for the six-week tournament that begins in September 2019.
Since then, 51 team bases have been proposed and accepted by the tournament’s organising committee, leaving the 16 already-qualified teams satisfied.
“The organising committee, host cities and prefectures have responded really well, so we are really happy with the team camp selection process,” stressed Gilpin.
The other significant change from six months ago is that tickets have now been on sale since mid-January, with World Rugby delighted by more than 1.2 million applications so far.
Gilpin estimates that 65 percent of those have been domestic.
“It shows fantastic demand and it is not just the Japan matches, it is not just the knockout matches, it is across all the venues,” he said.
With the tournament set to be staged at 12 venues, from Sapporo in the north to Kumamoto in the south, organisers hope to give visitors an opportunity to explore Japan beyond the usual tourist trails.
“There is a huge amount of local pride in each of the cities in terms of the matches they are hosting,” said Gilpin, who also oversaw the 2015 World Cup in England.
“There are also some superb narratives around some of the host cities. For example, at Kamaishi, which we always knew might be the story of the tournament.
“The two matches that will take place there will be very special and so there is a huge demand for those matches.”
The Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, located in the region ravaged by the 2011 earthquake, is the only stadium being built specifically for this event. It will host its first match in August and two matches during the World Cup.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ian Chadband