Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

With the Japan Rugby World Cup a roaring success, is it time to look at USA as possible host?

Finances will be a factor but World Rugby should consider taking the game to America where interest is growing

Richie Mo'unga of New Zealand signs autographs for fans at the Oita Stadium in Japan. Getty
Richie Mo'unga of New Zealand signs autographs for fans at the Oita Stadium in Japan. Getty

To everyone, bar none – Japan hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup has been a roaring success. I’d go as far to say as the best one we have ever witnessed.

Not only has each venue been practically sold out but the local population have bought into it big time. The stadiums are out of this world, and engagement on every level has been through the roof.

The hope was that the hosts Japan might have a few moments on the field to add to this as a garnish. Instead, they have rocketed from the role of a lone leaf of parsley on your plate to an all you can eat buffet.

The signs were there in the warm-up matches, in their game against England at Twickenham, but turning a potential upset into action is an altogether different kettle of koi.

Especially since their opponents, Ireland, were the same ones that were ranked No 1 in the world only a week earlier.

It also wasn’t a last-play moment as in Brighton four years earlier, when Eddie Jones’ side gambled on a winning try over a levelling kick at goal and famously scored in the corner to win the match against the South Africans.

The Boks were not anywhere near top of the rankings that day. So this most recent of Japanese victories not only usurps the 2015 one, it has the real potential to springboard them into the quarter finals. In almost every facet of play, Joe Schmidt’s team were outplayed.

Off the field, too, Japan have shown they are world class. Which at least begins to beg the question: why has it taken World Rugby this long to have a World Cup outside the major unions?

The answer is not that it should have happened earlier. World Rugby, just like Jamie Joseph’s men, have timed their run perfectly to give Japan the Rugby World Cup.

Japan were in the running for the 2011 World Cup. It went to New Zealand on account of the fact World Rugby (or IRB as it was) felt the need to guarantee it was somewhere were people would attend.

They were right. That bid came a little too soon, and the additional benefit of that delay is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Two huge events in two years has meant Japan has gone into world-class event preparation overdrive.

They have been able to refurbish, and build stadia and facilities that are for both. The two events are to benefit each other in many ways.

France and Paris are to have the same in 2023 and 2024, and in 2028 it is Los Angeles that will host the Summer Olympics.

Does that mean it is time for the United States to host the Rugby World Cup in 2027? Possibly, but their argument is a lot weaker than Japan’s was.

A lot can change in the next few years. The USA could have medalled at the Olympics in men’s and women’s sevens. That will give the sport a major boost in the States.

Major League Rugby is only in its infancy at the moment, and crowd and level of play is probably only at National One level in England.

OITA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 02: General view inside the stadium as both team's shows appreciation to the crowd following the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and Canada at Oita Stadium on October 02, 2019 in Oita, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Facilities and crowd support have been excellent in Japan. Getty

There is no reason it cannot improve to become a top professional league. They are being measured and thoughtful in its delivery so this could also boost fans following rugby and thus the attendance rates in 2027. And NBC are ramping up their coverage of rugby across the globe.

The World Sevens Series has also traveled there for many years. LA, San Diego, Las Vegas and now back to LA. Low level crowds were one of the main factors in these changes, but the crowds are increasing.

So there are positive signs, but there a lot of moving pieces that all need to move in the right direction at the same time in the next 18 to 24 months.

I’d love to see the US take on hosting a World Cup. One of the biggest joys of coaching on the World Sevens Series was being able to go to places that normally our rugby careers wouldn’t take us.

I loved trips to North America, to Japan, Asia and of course Dubai, and I think fans and players would love the opportunity, too.

Ultimately, though, the finances will need to add up. You can never get too far into any big rugby conversation around spreading the game, etc, without the dollar rearing its head.

Rugby is not football, and so much of the World Cup profits goes to funding World Rugby for the following four years. They will have to take a fiscal view on this, and you cannot blame them.

Because there have been some duds, too. To say the World Cup Sevens in 2013 in Moscow was a disappointing experience is a pretty sizeable understatement.

The Luzhniki Stadium was practically empty when the England team I was coaching lost to New Zealand in the final.

Reaching a World final should have been amazing. Although I have some fond memories of that week, it is no surprise that was my final straw and tournament before I left England and set sail for sunnier climes.

World Rugby will have been bruised by that, and although they bounced back to have a fantastic World Cup in San Francisco four years later, that was brilliantly supported - it came at a big financial loss.

However, Japan have proven to all that it can be done, and done on a spectacular scale.

Ben Ryan coached Fiji to Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, and won the Dubai Rugby Sevens four times - twice with England, and twice with Fiji

Updated: October 3, 2019 10:42 AM

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