Australia is preparing to host a festival of rugby as they gear up for the 2003 Rugby World Cup in a little over a year's time.
Australian Prime Minister, The Honourable John Howard said: "Hosting the 2003 Rugby World Cup is an enormous honour for Australia. As a sports-loving nation and as a nation that has demonstrated its capacity in the recent past to run very effectively major international sporting events, I can assure you that all Australians will welcome the Rugby World Cup here in 2003."
Rugby World Cup 2003 will be played across Australia in ten cities, in seven states and territories and in twelve state of the art venues commencing on Friday October 10th 2003. It climaxes with a week long showcase at the world famous Stadium Australia, the venue for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2000 Olympic Games.
This glittering 80,000 seat stadium will host the two semi-finals, the play-off for third and fourth places and the final itself which will be played on Saturday November 22nd 2007. The Opening Ceremony will also take place at Stadium Australia, followed immediately by the opening game in which the host nation Australia will play the Pumas of Argentina, one of the most exciting teams in the world.
A total of 92 nations which entered teams into Rugby World Cup 2003, has now been reduced to 37 through a series of qualifying matches which began in September 2000 in Norway. Of these, eight have pre-qualified for the finals as quarter finalists from the 1999 Rugby World Cup. They will be joined by the ten nations who will emerge from the qualifying rounds which remain to be played, plus a further two from the ensuing repechage.
In all, nearly two hundred matches will have been played in the qualifying rounds. In the Finals, twenty nations will compete in four pools, from which the top two will progress to the quarter finals. A total of 48 games will be played. During the 24 day period of Pool matches, games will be played on 22 days, providing a non stop feast of entertainment.
Vernon Pugh QC, Chairman of the International Rugby Board and Rugby World Cup Ltd, said: "Rugby World Cup 2003 promises to be the most exciting and vital yet. I am delighted that Australia is the host.
"Throughout, they have demonstrated their enthusiasm and commitment, and rugby fans throughout the world, whether lucky enough to be at the finals or watching from home, can look forward to a very special sporting occasion.
"I am also delighted to be able to welcome our global partners, Coca Cola, Heineken and Visa, who have each already given so much to the game. We look forward to working with them to make the 2003 Rugby World Cup the best ever."
The nations who have pre-qualified in ranking order are Australia, France, South Africa, New Zealand, Wales, England, Scotland and Argentina. These rankings are based on performance Rugby World Cup 1999. The qualifying rounds will fill one place for Africa, one for Asia, two places for the Americas, four places for Europe and two for Oceania.
The WRU has launched a campaign to create a long term legacy for Welsh club rugby by highlighting the advantages of volunteering. Rhian Edwards, a volunteer at Seven Sisters, has enjoyed many benefits of her volunteering at a grassroots rugby club including being part of the Rugby World Cup volunteer workforce after being nominated by the WRU - and the WRU is asking for more people to develop their 'Welsh rugby roots'.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland and captain Sam Warburton say their first prioirty on Sunday in the opening game of the World Cup is to win against Uruguay and not get overly concerned with points difference.
With only days to go until the biggest rugby competition in the world begins, rugby fans visiting Cardiff this autumn will be able to enjoy a special display at National Museum Cardiff as part of the celebrations surrounding the Rugby World Cup.