RFL cast net far and wide in effort to spread appeal of 2013 World Cup

Coun Keith Wakefield , leader Leeds City Council, Gary Hetherington, Leeds Rugby Chief Exec and Ralph Rimmer of the Rugby Football League with Leeds Rhinos player Rob Burrow
Coun Keith Wakefield , leader Leeds City Council, Gary Hetherington, Leeds Rugby Chief Exec and Ralph Rimmer of the Rugby Football League with Leeds Rhinos player Rob Burrow
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The Rugby Football League have defended their decision to take 2013 World Cup matches to France and Ireland.

Although the bulk of the tournament will take place in England and Wales, group matches will be held in Avignon and Perpignan, which are in France’s rugby league heartland, and Limerick’s Thomond Park, a traditional rugby union stronghold.

“It’s important that we remind ourselves that rugby league is played in other parts of Europe and our decision to take matches to France, and indeed Ireland, is a reflection of that,” tournament director Nigel Wood said at the announcement at Salford’s MediaCityUK.

“Rugby League Ireland have made some significant gains over the last decade and only a few weeks ago Ireland played France at Thomond Park in front of a reasonable crowd so we wanted to show our support.”

Thomond Park, with a capacity of 26,000, is the largest of the stadia announced so far, with the RFL still deliberating on venues for the opening ceremony, semi-finals and the final.

The quarter-finals will be held at Headingley, Wrexham, Warrington and Wigan.

With Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium tipped to host an opening double-header involving England and Wales and Old Trafford expected to get the final, Wembley could miss out along with Elland Road, venue for the recent Four Nations final which drew a capacity crowd.

Wood declined to comment on venues for the showcase matches but admitted the selection process involved some tough decision-making.

“We’ve still got some ongoing discussions with a number of quality facilities and so we’ve held back the announcements on the rest of the venues until February,” he said.

“We had a terrific bid from the city of Leeds but there are only 28 games to go round so somebody has to be disappointed.

“The selection committee have done what they could to ensure the most appropriate mix and blend of facility has been allocated.”

Other failed bids include Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, which has hosted Challenge Cup semi-finals in recent years, and Bramall Lane, current home to Sheffield Eagles.

Organisers are using the new grounds which St Helens and Salford will move into for the start of the 2012 Super League season, as well as the planned Pow Beck Stadium in Whitehaven, for group matches, but Widnes’s Halton Stadium misses out because its synthetic pitch has not been sanctioned by the Rugby League International Federation.

The other venues announced yesterday were Bristol’s Memorial Ground, The Shay (Halifax), Huddersfield’s Galpharm Stadium, Hull’s KC Stadium and Craven Park, The Gnoll (Neath), Rochdale’s Spotland and Leigh Sports Village.

Phil Cole, chairman and founder of Bristol Sonics Rugby League Club, said: “As a Bristolian, I’m thrilled that the city will play host to a match in such a prestigious global event and as a rugby league fan I’m overjoyed that the sport’s premier competition is coming to my city.

“This is a shot in the arm for rugby league in the city. It will give all of us in the community game something to work towards. It’s a huge thing for the sport in the south west.”

Jon Dutton, the RFL’s host cities manager, said the panel had heeded the lessons from the ill-fated 2000 World Cup in allocating fixtures. The venues revealed were a direct result of a lengthy bidding process designed to ensure total commitment from the hosts and avoid a repeat of the poor crowds for the last World Cup.

“It’s been a really interesting 11-month project,” Dutton said. “It was a really competitive process and we had some really tough decisions to make.

“We were pleasantly surprised not only by the quantity, but also the quality of bids. We looked long and hard at 2000 and we’ve gone through a different process.

“Of the 28 games, we’re taking three overseas for reasons we think are in the interests of the international development of the game.

“We need to attract new spectators to the sport and we think that’s a really good way of doing it.”

Super League clubs have voted overwhelmingly to retain the controversial Clubcall system for next season, the RFL have announced.

For the past two years, the highest-placed side reaching the last four of the play-offs have been able to choose their opponents.

This year Warrington head coach Tony Smith refused to participate in the system, which some have labelled a gimmick, but 12 of the clubs’ 14 chief executives voted to retain it. It is thought St Helens were the only club to vote against, with Warrington abstaining.

The clubs have also voted to stick with an eight-team play-off, despite criticism this year that it diluted the quality of the post-season.

Where the games will be staged in 2013

Dates: Scheduled to run during October and November.

Grounds

England: (Yorkshire) Halifax – The renovated Shay Stadium will host a group match. Huddersfield – The Galpharm Stadium, a semi-final venue in 2000, will host a group match. Hull – Both the KC Stadium and Craven Park will host group matches with the city also hosting two team base camps and team training venues. Leeds – Headingley will host a group match and a quarter-final while two teams will set up base camps in the city along with a team training venue being utilised. (Rest of the country) Bristol – Memorial Ground. Rochdale – Spotland Stadium. Salford – The Reds’ new City of Salford Stadium. St Helens – Saints’ new £26m Langtree Park. Warrington – The enlarged Halliwell Jones Stadium. Whitehaven – The planned Pow Beck Stadium. Wigan – The Leigh Sports Village and Wigan’s DW Stadium.

France: Avignon – The Parc des Sports. Perpignan – The Stade Gilbert Brutus.

Ireland: Limerick – Thomond Park.

Wales: Neath – The Gnoll. Wrexham – The Racecourse Stadium.

Training Camps: Bradford – the Bulls’ Tong High School facilities will be used as a team training venue. Plus teams will be based in Bolton, Manchester, Preston, Widnes, Workington.

The Groups: A – England, Australia, Fiji and Ireland. B: New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and France. C: Scotland, Tonga and Italy.D: Wales, Cook Islands and the USA.