OPINION – The Opening Ceremony portrayed England as the home of rugby and while it used to be, many will now agree that it is most certainly not.
The arrival of the Rugby World Cup in London has barely made a ripple around the city rather than the wave that was expected. Despite the rugby world doing its utmost in terms of ticket sales to push the World Cup along (for example, the sold out All Blacks v Argentina game at Wembley on Sunday), the reality is that you could walk around the majority of streets around central London and have no idea whatsoever that the Rugby World Cup was on.
Whether rugby fans agree with the notion or not, England is football country and this cold hard fact is being reflected in the apathy of the people in the streets and the noticeable absence of Rugby World Cup brand advertising from the places that matter most ie; the streets around Twickenham, Oxford Circus, Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus.
I had a colleague remark to me that he drove through Twickenham and there was virtually no evidence that the global tournament was taking place. Similarly, as mentioned above, you can walk through the busiest streets in London and not see one rugby related flag or banner.
Compare that with what we saw in Queen Street in Auckland during the 2011 World Cup or even the Champs Elysee and Champ de Mars in Paris during the 2007 World Cup and the tournament in England on a whole, until this stage, has been one big off-field disappointment.
Where are the hordes of rugby fans dressed in green and gold or Ireland green dominating bars down on the South Bank like they were during the 2003 World Cup in Brisbane and Melbourne?
It was always going to be tough for Rugby Union to stage its global tournament in a country whilst directly competing with its bread and butter sport in football and its elite tier the Barclays Premier League. Couple that with the staging of a number of games in a city that swallowed the Olympics like it was a Championship game in Edinburgh and the Rugby World Cup was well and truly up against it which makes you wonder why England was granted the tournament in the first place?
World Rugby has a solid reputation of opting for pounds over practicality, especially when it comes to Tier 1 rugby nations. But unfortunately, in this instance, we’re seeing their choice damage the reputation of rugby as one of the world’s fastest growing sports.
The tournament is certain to kick all of its economic goals with it set to bring in almost £1 billion to the UK economy. In addition to that, there are few games with astronomically priced tickets that aren’t sold out and the atmosphere in the stadiums is admittedly, incredible. But all this is unsurprising.
World Rugby knew that England would have the wealth to do that long before it awarded England the Rugby World Cup and, in that matter, it won’t disappoint.
Maybe, as the tournament progresses and this early-World Cup lull is navigated, things will start to heat up and London will become the fever-pitched hub that we all thought it would be prior to the tournament kicking off. For the fans who’ve made the journey to see their team play on the biggest stage of all, I certainly hope that is the case.