As a new decade dawns for the Rugby World Cup movement, Total Rugby Radio speaks with the IRB's Head of Rugby World Cup Kit McConnell about the tournament's preparations.
Total Rugby: Kit, we can now all say that the World Cup is 'next year' - so what are the major landmarks ahead for Rugby World Cup 2011?
Kit McConnell: On the rugby side of things we've now got 16 of the 20 teams qualified to play in the event in New Zealand. Twelve of those came directly from France at Rugby World Cup 2007 and then we had four teams (Canada, Samoa, USA and Namibia) qualify from the regional structures in 2009.
In 2010 we obviously need to fill the remaining four places and the first qualifying slots will come up in Europe in February-March. Two teams will qualify directly from the European Nations Cup, which is currently at the halfway stage.
Most interestingly there, we've currently got Russia sitting second in Europe, so if they maintain that position over the coming months they will qualify for a Rugby World Cup for the first time, which will certainly add a new flavour to the tournament.
In Asia we'll have a qualifier in May and then by the end of the year we'll know the final team participating in the tournament from the cross-continental knock-out round.
TR: Where are we with the Ticketing?
KM: In terms of ticketing the official travel agents' packages went on sale at the start of January.
The corporate hospitality packages will be on sale from February and from April the global public will be able to access tickets to the Rugby World Cup 2011 through rugbyworldcup.com, so that's another huge step forward for the tournament.
TR: Given the importance of Rugby World Cup to the Game's coffers, are there question marks beside the kind of financial return that the tournament is going to produce for the IRB and world rugby?
KM: We do face a couple of challenges and I think that those are clearly understood. The first one is that the global economic climate over the past couple of years has affected all sports events and all major commercial properties.
The second challenge we face is the fact that New Zealand is quite a small market domestically and it is a long way from Europe, where our commercial heartland is.
But, in saying that, we've developed a very strong commercial programme for the tournament. We've got Heineken, Mastercard and Emirates as our Global Worldwide Partners now.
We've got Sky New Zealand as our host broadcaster, so things are moving ahead, and we're looking to make some further announcements in the coming months.
TR: What's the feeling in New Zealand as we near that big day?
KM: New Zealand is obviously a rugby-loving country and that was one of the key attractions in allocating the event to New Zealand and we've put in place some planning steps which have really built on that excitement domestically.
Last year we announced the match schedule, which meant that there were 13 venues throughout the whole country hosting the tournament. Later in the year we announced the training bases and camps that would be used by the teams throughout the event, so we've been very conscious of making the tournament a truly national one in New Zealand.
We think that we've tapped into that sense of excitement and love of rugby that New Zealanders have for the Game.