Johannesburg - South Africa could be asked to be on standby to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup following a series of setbacks to current hosts Japan, according to the supersport.com website.
According to two high-placed sources, SARU chief executive Jurie Roux this week held secretive meetings with World Rugby – formerly the IRB – to ascertain South Africa’s readiness to step in at the last minute should the Japanese not be able to meet their obligations to host the tournament.
World Rugby has criticised the Japanese Rugby Union, with some “fearing” they have given them an “ultimatum” regarding assurances that the stadiums are up to standard after it was revealed last week that the tournament would not be able to use the National Stadium.
This has led World Rugby to look elsewhere, with South Africa – who are already bidding for the 2023 tournament – being sounded out as to their readiness in case the Japanese are unable to meet their obligations.
While neither party is likely to admit to the meetings, two separate sources have confirmed to supersport.com that they have taken place and that SARU have indicated a willingness to help out if needed.
But for World Rugby to take the step to take the showpiece tournament away from the Japanese would be the last resort, especially as it forms a massive part of the global expansion plans of rugby to take it into new territories.
The Japanese are also beset with other problems, including having to give assurances to Southern Hemisphere controlling body Sanzar as to their readiness to enter an expanded Super Rugby competition in 2016. Added to this was the recent resignation of National coach Eddie Jones, ostensibly to join the Stormers next year as their Super Rugby coach.
Their woes on the World Cup front are the most concerning, with World Rugby asking the Japanese Rugby Union for a “formal reassurance” that it can deliver on its 2019 World Cup commitments following the removal of the new national stadium in Tokyo from its list of venues.
Japan suffered a blow when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered plans for the National Stadium to be re-drawn as it was too expensive, meaning it will not be ready in time for the Rugby World Cup but rather for the 2020 Olympic Games.
The loss of the stadium has left organisers without a main venue for the tournament, with World Rugby now demanding the JRU give a revised budget and host venue proposal.
“The new National Stadium was due to be the centrepiece of an exciting program of 12 host venues, staging the opening match, the final and other key clashes and its loss has significant impact on the overall ticketing capacity and tournament budget,” World Rugby said in a statement late last week. “These are critical to an event that is the lifeblood of the game.”
Financial considerations are a massive part of the process for World Rugby and while they wait for Japan’s revised budgetary response, it makes sense that the governing body has sought an alternative in case the Japanese cannot deliver.
South Africa have a host of stadiums in top condition following hosting the 2010 Football World Cup and these have formed an integral part of their bid for the 2023 tournament.
Former Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill, who was one of those pushing for Japan’s inclusion in Sanzar tournaments, warned that an “ultimatum” to the Japanese was the wrong way to go.
“I've read the World Rugby press release regarding the assurances they are seeking from Japan and it concerns me that this ultimatum may well be a precursor to World Rugby stripping Japan of the hosting rights," O'Neill said in comments published by The Australian newspaper on Monday.
"And indeed there has been some sentiment out of the UK in particular that the decision to award Japan the hosting rights in the first place was one that some would like to reverse."
Organisers have earmarked the Tokyo Stadium as a replacement but the 50 000-capacity venue may not be World Rugby's ideal choice.
O'Neill, who stepped down as ARU chief in 2013 after a second stint in charge, backed Japan's bid after pulling Australia out of the bidding process in 2009.
"The fact is the ARU, New Zealand and other forward-thinking nations worked very hard to ensure Japan was awarded the rights to host 2019, being the first non-traditional territory to do so," O'Neill added.
"And the strategic imperative is blindingly obvious that if World Rugby wants to live up to its objective of being a truly world game, then every effort and every ounce of energy must be directed into ensuring Japan does host 2019.
"If you look at the composition of the organising committee that has been assembled, it is a very large collection of captains of industry in Japan, chairmen and CEOs of incredibly large and important companies across a range of industries.
"I have no doubt that these gentlemen will rise to the challenge as will the Japanese government."
Japan is also due to enter Sanzar’s Super Rugby competition next year along with the EP Kings and an Argentinean side, but have reportedly only signed five players at this stage, prompting Sanzar to also ask for assurances while speculation is growing they may be left out of the 2016 competition.