(Main & Thumb) Australia won the right to be World Champions in 1999, now that they've won the right to host the tournament they intend to ensure that four years on rugby will follow the Web Ellis Cup to the homeland
Rugby World Cup 2003 will see all 20 teams being rotated throughout various cities in Australia as organizers take the world's best players and nations to the wider population across the country.
Previous Rugby World Cup finals series have sometimes seen competing countries play their pool round fixtures in either one city or region. In 2003, most countries will play pool matches in a number of Australian states. For example, defending champions Australia will play pool fixtures in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne while Rugby World Cup 1999 runners up, France play in Brisbane, Townsville, Sydney and Wollongong.
John O'Neill, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Rugby Union said: "We want to demonstrate the full internationalism of rugby in a tangible way to the Australian community.
"This can be achieved by taking as many teams as possible to as many cities as possible so the public can witness first hand the teams in action. That said, no team will be disadvantaged and no team will face a strenuous travel schedule. This will be the player's tournament.
"Further, the Rugby World Cup is more than just the playing of rugby matches. It is a festival conducted every four years where the game's spirit is celebrated by the players on the pitch and by the thousands of fans off the pitch who will travel to Australia in support of their team."
The IRB has reverted to four pools comprising five teams compared to five pools of four teams adopted for Rugby World Cup 1999. As a result, there will be no quarter final play-off matches as were held in 1999.
The top two teams in each of the four pools will progress to the quarter-final stage. Losing quarter-final and semi-final teams will be eliminated with the winning teams progressing through to the final at Stadium Australia in Sydney on November 22nd.
Rugby World Cup 2003 will be a record 44 days in duration - seven days longer than Rugby World Cup 1999. The top eight seeded nations for Rugby World Cup 2003 have been allocated their rankings based on their Rugby World Cup 1999 results.
In order, the rankings are Australia (1), France (2), South Africa (3), New Zealand (4), Wales (5), England (6), Scotland (7) and Argentina (8). The IRB has then seeded the next eight teams, in order, as Europe 1 (9), Oceania 1 (10), Oceania 2 (11), Europe 2 (12), Africa 1 (13), Asia (14), Europe 3 (15) and America 1 (16). The IRB has balanced each pool with the top four countries' ranking points totaling 34 points. For example, Pool A comprises Australia (1 point), Argentina (8 points), Europe 1 (9 points) and Africa 1 (16 points).
The IRB decided in November 2000 to allocate two repechage positions for 2003 instead of four and instead increase the number of qualifiers through qualifying rounds from eight to 10 nations. The two additional qualifying positions have been granted to Europe 4 and Americas 2. Keeping pools in balance both in terms of perceived ranking and regional representation. The last four teams, two of them coming from the repechage competition have been assumed at the same ranking and allocated to the pools to keep them balanced on a regional basis.
The allocation is then:
Pool A 01. Australia
09. Europe 1 (winner of Europe Round 4 Pool A)
plus Europe 4 (runner up of Europe Round 4 Pool B)
Pool B 02. France
10. Oceania 1
plus Repechage 1 (Africa / Europe / America)
Pool C 03. South Africa
11. Oceania 2
14. Europe 3 (runner up of Europe Round 4 Pool A)
plus Americas 2
Pool D 04. New Zealand
12. Europe 2 (Winner of Europe round 4 Pool B)
15. Americas 1
plus Repechage 2 (Asia / Oceania)
By pool, the split of Regions is as follows:
A: 2 Europe 1 Oceania 1 Americas 1 Africa
B: 2 Europe 1 Oceania 1 Asia 1 Repechage
C: 2 Europe 1 Oceania 1 Africa 1 Americas
D: 2 Europe 1 Oceania 1 Americas 1 Repechage
In 2003, pool matches will be spread over four weekends, compared to three weekends in 1999. O'Neill said the record number of 12 midweek fixtures in 2003 would result in maintaining a high level of interest throughout each week of the pool rounds.
"Nine midweek matches were played in 1987 and 1995 and 10 were played in 1991," said O'Neill. "Only four midweek matches were played in 1999 and we believe the spread of games over all days of the week will be welcomed by fans throughout the world."
Once the pool rounds have been completed, all quarter-finals, semi-final matches plus the final will be played on either a Saturday or Sunday while the third and fourth play-off match will be played on Thursday, November 20th. O'Neill also stated a record number of matches will be played either in the early evening or at night.
"At present, we have allocated 44 fixtures to early evening or night timeslots." said O'Neill. "One of the primary considerations for this change is the fact that the tournament will be played in spring and we are particularly mindful of the effects heat stress may cause players if too many matches are played in daytime. It has the additional benefit of delivering the Cup into television friendly timeslots both for Australians and for the world wide audience."
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.