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.
Principality Stadium will host the UEFA Champions League Final in six weeks' time. WRU chairman Gareth Davies, Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford and Ambassador Ian Rush joined young sports fans at the trophy arrival at the venue to celebrate the magnitude of the event on Saturday 3rd June (kick-off 19.45).
British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton is looking forward to bringing together players from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales for the biggest challenge of their careers - a series against world champions, New Zealand.
For the fifth year running, Wales referee Nigel Owens will be in charge of proceedings at Judgement Day V at Principality Stadium. It promises to be 'extra special' for the Wales' favourite ref, as he will be making his 150th appearance in the league.
There will be no shortage of inside knowledge from Bowl Finalists Caerphilly and Amman United when they face each other on Sunday at National Finals Day. Caerphilly hooker Rhys Cleverly knows the Principality Stadium pitch better than most as a matchday groundsman, while Amman United can look to Wales' record try scorer Shane Williams for some helpful advice.
Two hundred and 40 teams competed in the inaugural Urdd WRU 7s held at Pencoed last week with Welsh internationals Steff Andrews and Jasmine Joyce impressed with the talent on display, as was Urdd chief executive, Sioned Hughes.
The countdown is on for Judgement Day V as tickets for the big day at Principality Stadium soar through the 50,000 mark. Players and coaches alike are bursting at the seams to play in the double header with Dragons coach Kingsley Jones claiming there is a 'real buzz' about the event.
WRU TV went behind the scenes when the four regions got together to test their skill set for the BBC's Scrum V Live rugby show, at the WRU National Centre of Excellene in the build up to Judgement Day V. Blues' Matthew Morgan was one of the stars of the show while the Dragons' Cory Hill proved a surprise package...the full set of results will be revealed on tv screens on matchday
Wales assistant coach Richie Pugh is confident his side can cause a few headaches in the Hong Kong Sevens this weekend. In a tough group, Wales kick off their campaign against New Zealand on Friday before playing Japan and Fiji, who are chasing their third consecutive Hong Kong title, on Saturday.
Bedwas had to overcome a stubborn Carmarthen Quins side before winning the Foster's Challenge Cup final in Bridgend with a 23-18 victory. Bedwas captain Nicky Griffiths pays tribute to his side who have claimed the club's first piece of silverware in the modern era.
Team coach Brett Davey is aiming to keep his unbeaten run in cup finals at Principality Stadium intact when his side take on Amman United in the WRU Bowl final, after he guided Caerphilly to a 20-14 win against Cilfynydd in the semi-finals.
Penallta are hoping to go one step further than last season when falling to Bedlinog in the WRU Plate Final. After a titanic struggle against Nant Conwy, they have given themselves a great chance, after a hard fought 18-13 semi-final victory.