A week on from the tense and dramatic Rugby World Cup 2011 Final, we caught up with the IRB’s Head of Rugby World Cup Kit McConnell to look back over a tournament that captured the imagination of New Zealand and look ahead to England 2015.
Total Rugby Radio: How do you look back on the tournament?
Kit McConnell: I think we look back on it with a great deal of satisfaction and pride. I think everyone has come together from the local stakeholders to ourselves to our stakeholders and delivered a fantastic tournament which has only taken the Rugby World Cup to even new heights.
TRR: A success on and off the field?
KM: Absolutely. I think on the field we saw some outstanding rugby and that culminated in perhaps one of the great Rugby World Cup Finals which certainly had four million New Zealanders and probably people all around the world very nervous and a little bit tense going into even the last seconds. I think the Final was a real justification of the rugby on the field, but the rugby right from the first game right through the 48 games to the last has been absolutely outstanding.
We have seen matches like Tonga upsetting France who then went on to push the All Blacks to within one point in the Rugby World Cup Final. We have seen Russia on their debut scoring three tries against Australia, three tries against Italy and two against Ireland and pushing the USA the whole way in that match.
Right from the debutants through to the traditional powers of rugby we have seen some great performances on the field, and then off the field the whole country has embraced the tournament. I don’t think we have ever seen a Rugby World Cup where a whole country has come together to support the tournament, to engage with it and to welcome the 100,000 travelling fans and have those travelling fans embrace the country the same way. It has been absolutely incredible off the field.
TRR: And since the Final we’ve seen a real outpouring of relief among New Zealand and some great scenes at the parades in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington?
KM: Absolutely, even from Sunday night in Auckland where the fans I think felt a huge amount of relief and expressed themselves in a really positive way and the 200,000 people I think were estimated to come out in Auckland on Monday for the parade. We have seen the same scenes in Christchurch and Wellington.
And it is fantastic that the All Blacks can give something back to those communities, particularly in Christchurch who had such a difficult time in the build up with the earthquakes and with the fact that we had to move the matches away from the city, the fact that the All Blacks could go back there as Rugby World Cup winners and give something back to the community during the parade was something very special.
TRR: The commercial programme and revenues of RWC are vital to the development of the Game, tell us a bit about how these resources are used?
KM: Well some of it goes back directly to the Tier 1 countries who are so important to generating those revenues to start with and then the reminder is driven back into the global development of the game and we have seen some of the results of that again at this tournament.
With Russia as a debut country for the first time being so competitive, with Samoa and Tonga and again Tonga beating France was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament, we have seen the performances of Georgia and some of the other countries, so we can see the development happening and it is very exciting to look forward for the next four years and sense what the strength of these teams will be like in England.
There are huge plans in place for the development of the Game over the next four years, not just in Fifteens but in Sevens as we build up to the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in 2013 and the Olympic debut of Sevens in 2016, so it is an exciting time off the field for the development of the Game.
TRR: What memories will you take away personally from RWC 2011?
KM: I think some of the strongest memories were at the start and the end of the tournament. At the start of the tournament we saw the arrival of the Samoa and Tonga teams out at the airport when we had 3,000 people welcoming these teams to the country and that gave you a real sense of the way that fans were going to get out and engage with the teams and they certainly did all around the country, not just in the match cities but in the cities hosting the teams and even the towns around the country that weren’t hosting teams but put up big screens and just got out to enjoy themselves.
I think one of other the earliest memories we have was the opening ceremony, and by the end of the opening ceremony I think we all had a sense of how professional the Rugby World Cup was going to be this time. That opening ceremony really set the tone for taking the tournament to new levels.
And then right through the tournament, the nerves we all felt as rugby fans watching the Final and in between we had all sorts of images about the way the fans interacted with the teams, the way the teams engaged with the local communities, some of the action on the field, the respect that the teams still continued to show to each other at the end of the matches, the way the teams interacted with their fans at the end of their matches.
There are just so many memories. Probably the biggest two would be the way the volunteers came together around the tournament, every time we met a volunteer they were so helpful, so positive, were enjoying themselves so much and to see them recognised in the parades around the country has been fantastic. And finally just the colour of the tournament, every time you walked down a street anywhere in New Zealand there was colour, there were flags, supporters wearing jerseys, everyone got out to be a part of it and just had a huge celebration of rugby and of New Zealand over the last six weeks.
TRR: Attention now starts to turn towards RWC 2015 in England, what lessons have been learnt from this tournament which can be taken forward in terms of 2015?
KM: We have done a lot of work on 2015, already it is over two years since we allocated that tournament so we have done a lot of the early planning work, we have had a huge amount of observations and learning opportunities around this tournament with the organisers of 2015. Some of the lessons we can take forward are of the Government involvement and the New Zealand Government has been a huge partner of delivering a successful Rugby World Cup 2011 so that is one lesson we can take forward.
The second one is really how do we continue to engage the population hosting the tournament the same way we have done here in New Zealand, at a national level, at a regional level and at a local level, not just around the matches but around the teams and making sure that the whole country feels like they are a part of the tournament.
TRR: You’ll be looking for a little bit of down time but what is the next step in terms of 2015?
KM: Well we go through a full review process of 2011 first of all, so we can capture all of the reasons the tournament was successful and of course all of those things we would like to look at perhaps changing the planning of moving forward for 2015.
Then in February of next year we bring the organisers of this tournament to London and meet with the organisers of 2015 and look at the lessons and have three days of interaction and that will be really the first step in the transfer to 2015 being a current host rather than a future host.
Beyond that next year we are looking at selecting the venues, finalising the tournament dates, finalising the qualifier process and starting that qualification for that tournament in the middle of 2012 and then finally at the end of next year having the pool allocation draw so we know which of the pre-qualified teams are in which pools for Rugby World Cup 2015 and so it all comes round very quickly.
TRR: 2015 seems a long way away, but it will come round quickly?
KM: When we look back at how quickly the last four years have gone I think it gives all of us an indication of how close 2015 is already, so while it seems it is a long way away we don’t have too long to wait and there is a lot of work to do to make sure it is the same level of success as 2011 has been.