Rugby and cherry blossom

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the bi-annual World Rugby Council meeting in the beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan, which coincided with the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw at the historic State Guest House.

At the draw, the Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe spoke of his pride for his country and their opportunity to host the 2019 World Cup: “I promise that Japan will provide the very best for the players and that an enthusiasm befitting the name of the Rugby World Cup pervades the entire nation. Amid all the thrills and excitement expected, we intend to make the tournament one that will live on in the memories of people around the world.”

The 2019 competition marks Asia’s first World Cup and illustrates the exciting growth in the game’s popularity across the globe. Participation in Asia has nearly doubled since 2009 and there’s now more than half a million players taking part in the game throughout the region. Later this month, a new project will be launched that aims to further increase rugby participation in Asia in advance of the World Cup.

I travelled out with Ian Ritchie, the RFU CEO, who is the other World Rugby council representative. It was a fantastic opportunity to chat with other council members and at the meeting we made important decisions about the rules and regulations of rugby, particularly increasing the time for players to become eligible to play for a country from three to five years’ residency which will make it harder for players to play for one country and then swap to another.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont commented: “As rugby grows, we need to ensure that it continues to be relevant and inspiring to the next generation of players and fans. Everyone has a say and everyone has a role to play in our future.”

rugby world cup drawAfter the meetings, attention turned to the pool draw. With eight slots still to be filled, we know half of the draw for definite; hosts Japan drew Ireland and Scotland in Pool A, Pool B sees New Zealand, South Africa and Italy pitted against each other and Pool D pulls Australia, Wales and Georgia.

England’s pool is set to be a challenging one with us facing France and Argentina as well as one of the two top-ranked teams from the Pacific Nations Cup – either Fiji, Samoa or Tonga – and either the USA or Canada. Next month we’ll find out which of these tough teams we are set to face in Japan.