Tokyo - World
Rugby chairperson Bill Beaumont signalled that more "emerging" rugby
nations could be set to host the Rugby World Cup as the one-year countdown
began on Thursday to the 2019 edition in Japan, the first outside the
With exactly 12 months to go before the battle for the Webb Ellis Cup kicks off in Tokyo, Beaumont also predicted one of the most
competitive and unpredictable tournaments yet, tipping free-flowing Fiji
as a dark horse team to watch.
"World Rugby will have to have a philosophical debate going forward"
over where future World Cups should be held, Beaumont told reporters at
an event to mark the year-to-go celebrations.
"It's important that we are commercially successful but we do need to
have that debate whether the next World Cup following France (in 2023)
will go to an emerging country or an established country that actually
needs a bit of help as well," he added.
"Do you say to Argentina, do you say to Ireland, Canada, the USA,
these are countries we're going to because actually strategically, that
is going to make the biggest difference in that area?"
Beaumont said the decision had been taken to award the World Cup to
Japan - far from a traditional rugby stronghold - because of the "huge
growth potential" in Asia.
Asian rugby officials aim to get one million more people playing the
game and they are nearly 90 percent of the way to achieving that, he
"In fact, there are over 200 000 more rugby players here in Japan
than there were two or three years ago, which is a huge achievement,"
said the former England captain.
However, Brave Blossoms legend Ayumu Goromaru told the Japan Times
that he was "deeply irritated" by what he said was a lack of progress in
promoting the game since Japan famously beat South Africa in 2015.
"The popularity has dropped too quickly. I think that the situation
is going back to what it was before the World Cup (in 2015)," Goromaru
was quoted as saying.
On the pitch,
smaller rugby countries are closing the gap with traditional giants New
Zealand, Australia, France and the home nations, and Beaumont predicted
next year's tournament would be very tight.
He said that "none of the so-called fancied teams will want to play
against Fiji" who have twice upset the odds to reach the quarter-finals
in rugby's showcase event.
Fiji kick off their campaign on September 21 against Australia, who
have endured a torrid time in the Rugby Championship, losing to
Argentina last week for the first time on home turf in 35 years.
"Last World Cup they (Fiji) had a very tough group. This time, if
they get their act together, they could really get to the quarter-finals
or even go further," said World Rugby Vice-Chairman and former Pumas
captain Agustin Pichot.
Beaumont noted that the mighty All Blacks, the World Cup winners in
2011 and 2015, had shown a crack in their armour, losing 36-34 last week
to South Africa.
"You are seeing England in a bit of a decline, what are they going to
be like? New Zealand lose a game, everyone goes 'wow'. Argentina are
coming back strongly. Ireland and Wales look very strong. South Africa
look strong," said Beaumont.
"The actual competition itself will be really good, really tight in
all the games and it should be an outstanding spectacle to showcase our
The World Cup kicks off on September 20 next year with hosts Japan
taking on Russia in Tokyo, hoping to emulate their heroic win over South
Africa four years ago.
"We like the host team to do well. But it's not catastrophic if they
don't," said Beaumont, recalling how England's pool-stage exit in 2015
"didn't detract from what was a fantastic tournament".