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Battle for 2015

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Simon Austin | 15:39 UK time, Monday, 27 July 2009

The gloves are off ahead of the vote for the hosting of the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups.

England and Japan are the recommended venues following an independent appraisal of the rival bids commissioned by Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL).

The International Rugby Board had hoped its 28-man Council would simply rubberstamp these choices in Dublin on Tuesday, avoiding some of the controversy and horse trading of previous years.

How wrong they were.

England manager Martin Johnson with the Rugby World CupCries of foul play and threats of retaliation have shrouded the journey to the Irish capital and the vote hangs in the balance.

As I write this, delegates from the rival bids - South Africa are vying with England for 2015 and Italy with Japan for 2019 - are in Dublin desperately trying to persuade Council members to opt for them.

A senior source from the RFU told me he believed he had secured the 14 votes needed for victory but was "certainly not taking anything for granted".

South Africa's bid team, led in Dublin by Union president Oregan Hoskins and Springbok legend Morne du Plessis, argue they can deliver a far stronger World Cup than England though.

They are furious RWCL recommended England as hosts and have written a series of letters to the IRB complaining about the way the decision was reached.

When I was in South Africa earlier this month, members of their union were even privately threatening to sue the IRB if they were not awarded the 2015 World Cup.

Their anger centres on the fact they have a government guarantee for the £80m bond the IRB requires for hosting the tournament, whereas England have only £25m.

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Bid chairman Mark Alexander told me: "We completed our tender process to the letter and not everyone else has done that.

"What is the best guarantee you can get? A government guarantee. With England, the balance of the £80m is provided by the RFU, which is a big risk."

The RFU counters that the government guarantee is immaterial, because they will be able to deliver the IRB's biggest-ever cash earner.Oregan Hoskins, president of the South Africa Rugby Union, with Springboks coach Peter de Villiers

This assertion is backed by RWCL's independent analysis of the bids - conducted by consultants Deloitte, leading sports marketing firm IMG and lawyers Clifford Chance - which estimates that a World Cup in England could yield more than £300m, which is £60m more than they believe South Africa would make.

The RFU's conservative estimate of ticket sales for the tournament is 2.8 million, which would generate more than £100m.

This would give the union a profit of £20m, as the hosts are able to keep any cash from tickets over and above the £80m bond.

Financial concerns are crucial for the IRB, which gets at least 95% of its total revenue from World Cups. This is because, in the words of one IRB Council member I spoke to, the next World Cup in New Zealand in 2011 is expected to "be a financial disaster" which will lose £30m.

This makes it imperative that 2015 is a success, especially when the following World Cup has been earmarked for an "emerging" rugby nation.

Despite the analysis carried out by RWCL, South Africa question whether England will be able to generate greater commercial and broadcast revenue than them.

"We are in the same time zone as England, so kick-off times will be no different for the global television audience if the tournament is in South Africa," Alexander said.

"Also consider that the football World Cup in South Africa is projected to make $3.7bn in broadcast revenue, compared to $2.7bn from Germany in 2006."

He also argues that South Africa's venues - Loftus Versfeld, Ellis Park, Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, Green Point, Moses Mabhida and Kings Park - are "much stronger" than their English counterparts because they will be purely designated for World Cup use.

"We will give our stadiums to the IRB for the World Cup," he said, "that means advertising hoardings, boxes and everything."

Eight of England's venues - Elland Road in Leeds, Southampton's St Mary's, St James' Park in Newcastle, the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, Arsenal's Emirates, Liverpool's Anfield and Manchester United's Old Trafford - are football stadiums, with the Rugby World Cup taking place during the domestic football season.

A senior RFU official countered that this argument was "nonsense" as all the English stadiums were "clean" and would be available both five days before and two days after matches, as stipulated by the IRB.

Stadiums with sponsors' names in their titles will also be re-named for the purposes of the tournament, with the Emirates, for example, being known simply as "the Arsenal Stadium".

South Africa's bid was hardly helped by the number of empty seats at games during the recent Lions tour, with three of the four-man RWCL panel that recommended England as hosts - Bernard Lapasset, Syd Millar and Bill Beaumont - attending matches.

So the air is thick with acrimony and bad feeling in Dublin ahead of Tuesday's vote.
Nevertheless, one of the RFU's bid team told me: "This is rugby. No matter what the result, we will sit down with our opposite numbers afterwards and share a beer."

* For more up-to-the-minute chat, you can follow me on my Twitter feed

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