RWC schedule is fair: IRB
London - After 28 years and seven tournaments of frustrating inequality, the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be played on an almost level playing field after organisers came up with a schedule that gives the sport's lesser lights a fighting chance.
It had long been a running sore that the tier two nations have been forced to operate on minimal rest, whereas the game's aristocrats, already stronger, richer and better-prepared, were usually given a week or more to recover.
In New Zealand in 2011 the likes of Samoa, Canada, Namibia, Georgia and the United States often had only three or four days between matches. Japan were forced to play all four pool games in 17 days, reflecting the situation in most of the previous tournaments.
In 2011 after Samoa had only four days' rest before their 17-10 defeat by Wales, who had had a week, centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu famously described his country's treatment as "like slavery, like the holocaust, like apartheid".
While that was an extreme reaction, everyone involved in the game recognised the unfair nature of the schedule and the organisers have finally produced a fairer programme.
"We just wanted to make sure there was no disparity in the rest-day balance between tier one and tier two nations," International Rugby Board chief executive Brett Gosper told Reuters.
"There is a minimum rest period of three days, five of those for tier two teams, and this is where the balance is this year, five for tier one.
"Everyone was clear and on board about it, including the tier one unions, who wanted it to happen. There was no dissent, it was just a matter of trying to get the balance, alongside the other factors such as TV. The schedule is always something of a Rubik's cube but that parity was one of the principles laid down from the start."
The IRB, while recognising the inequality of the schedules, have long argued that maximising income, which then enables them to bankroll the tier two nations, was more important than helping them out at the World Cup.
That meant the likes of England, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa would generally play only at weekends to maximise TV exposure while their lesser rivals would usually play at weekends and again in midweek.
With rugby being such a physically gruelling game, and with many of those nations short of depth in their squads, it meant that encouraging early performances that hinted at a possible tilt in the balance of power were soon replaced by one-sided wins.
"We saw in the last World Cup how competitive some of the tier two teams were in the early rounds, with small losing margins, but by the end when the recovery times had shortened they were getting well beaten," said Gosper.
"Nobody wants that, the game needs more competitive countries and we're hoping that this time they will be. They won't have that excuse this time anyway."
Although the schedule has, on paper, made things a little more equal, the tier one teams now facing short turnarounds have all got them ahead of their easier fixtures.
New Zealand open their defence against Argentina at Wembley on September 20 and though they are on duty against four days later at the Olympic Stadium, their opponents are "Africa 1", likely to be Namibia, who leaked over 80 points to Wales and South Africa in the last tournament.
South Africa's short turnaround comes ahead of their game against "Americas 2", probably Canada.
Ian Ritchie, CEO of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), said England had been fully supportive of the fairer schedule.
"I think everyone was in agreement that what happened four years ago wasn't really right and that was reflected by us and most other stakeholders in the post-tournament review process," he said.
"I think Debbie Jevans and her team have done a great job in producing a schedule that gives fans all over the country the chance to see games and also gives every team a fairer turnaround."
England, who open the tournament against "Oceania 1", probably Fiji, at Twickenham on September 18, have a week between all their games, including the blockbusters of the pool stage against Wales, on September 28, and Australia, on October 3.
Fixtures for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England and Wales:
Friday, September 18 (Pool A) England v Oceania 1 - Twickenham Stadium
Saturday, September 19 (Pool C) Tonga v Europe 1 - Kingsholm Stadium
Saturday, September 19 (Pool D) Ireland v Americas 1 - Millennium Stadium
Saturday, September 19 (Pool B) South Africa v Asia 1 - Brighton Community Stadium
Saturday, September 19 (Pool D) France v Italy - Twickenham Stadium
Sunday, September 20 (Pool B) Samoa v Americas 2 - Brighton Community Stadium
Sunday, September 20 (Pool C) New Zealand v Argentina - Wembley Stadium
Sunday, September 20 (Pool A) Wales v Playoff Winner - Millennium Stadium
Wednesday, September 23 (Pool B) Scotland v Asia 1 - Kingsholm Stadium
Wednesday, September 23 (Pool A) Australia v Oceania 1 - Millennium Stadium
Wednesday, September 23 (Pool D) France v Europe 2 - Olympic Stadium
Thursday, September 24 (Pool C) New Zealand v Africa 1 - Olympic Stadium
Friday, September 25 (Pool C) Argentina v Europe 1 - Kingsholm Stadium
Saturday, September 26 (Pool D) Italy v Americas 1 - Elland Road
Saturday, September 26 (Pool B) South Africa v Samoa - Villa Park
Saturday, September 26 (Pool A) England v Wales - Twickenham Stadium
Sunday, September 27 (Pool A) Australia v Playoff Winner - Villa Park
Sunday, September 27 (Pool B) Scotland v Americas 2 - Elland Road
Sunday, September 27 (Pool D) Ireland v Europe 2 - Wembley Stadium
Tuesday, September 29 (Pool C) Tonga v Africa 1 - Sandy Park
Thursday, October 1 (Pool D) France v Americas 1 - stadiummk
Thursday, October 1 (Pool A) Wales v Oceania 1 - Millennium Stadium
Friday, October 2 (Pool C) New Zealand v Europe 1 - Millennium Stadium
Saturday, October 3 (Pool B) Samoa v Asia 1 - stadiummk
Saturday, October 3 (Pool B) South Africa v Scotland - St James' Park
Saturday, October 3 (Pool A) England v Australia - Twickenham Stadium
Sunday, October 4 (Pool C) Argentina v Tonga - Leicester City Stadium
Sunday, October 4 (Pool D) Ireland v Italy - Olympic Stadium
Tuesday, October 6 (Pool D) Americas 1 v Europe 2 - Leicester City Stadium
Tuesday, October 6 (Pool A) Oceania 1 v Playoff Winner - stadiummk
Wednesday, October 7 (Pool C) Africa 1 v Europe 1 - Sandy Park
Wednesday, October 7 (Pool B) South Africa v Americas 2 - Olympic Stadium
Friday, October 9 (Pool C) New Zealand v Tonga - St James' Park
Saturday, October 10 (Pool B) Samoa v Scotland - St James' Park
Saturday, October 10 (Pool A) Australia v Wales - Twickenham Stadium
Saturday, October 10 (Pool A) England v Playoff Winner - Manchester City Stadium
Sunday, October 11 (Pool D) Italy v Europe 2 - Sandy Park
Sunday, October 11 (Pool B) Americas 2 v Asia 1 - Kingsholm Stadium
Sunday, October 11 (Pool C) Argentina v Africa 1 - Leicester City Stadium
Sunday, October 11 (Pool D) France v Ireland - Millennium Stadium
Saturday, October 17 Quarter-Final 1: Winner Pool C v Runner-Up Pool D - Millennium Stadium
Saturday, October 17 Quarter-Final 2: Winner Pool B v Runner-Up Pool A - Twickenham Stadium
Sunday, October 18 Quarter-Final 3: Winner Pool D v Runner-Up Pool C - Millennium Stadium
Sunday, October 18 Quarter-Final 4: Winner Pool A v Runner-Up Pool B - Twickenham Stadium
Saturday, October 24 Semi-Final 1: Winner QF1 v W QF2 - Twickenham Stadium
Sunday, October 25 Semi-Final 2: Winner QF3 v W QF4 - Twickenham Stadium
Friday, October 30 Bronze Final - Olympic Stadium
Saturday, October 31 Final - Twickenham Stadium
2015 Rugby World Cup stadiums and capacities:
1. Brighton Community Stadium, Brighton & Hove - 30 750
2. Manchester City Stadium, Manchester - 47 800
3. Elland Road, Leeds - 37 914
4. Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester - 16 115
5. Leicester City Stadium, Leicester - 32 312
6. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff - 74 154
7. Olympic Stadium, London - 54 000
8. Sandy Park, Exeter - 12 300
9. Stadiummk, Milton Keynes - 30 717
10. St James’ Park, Newcastle upon Tyne - 52 409
11. Twickenham Stadium, London - 81 605
12. Villa Park, Birmingham - 42 785
13. Wembley Stadium, London - 90 256