Excitement slowly builds for RWC hosts

6:40 am on 12 September 2015

OPINION: To say there was a lack of enthusiasm towards the Rugby World Cup, when I arrived in the birthplace of the game a few months ago would have been an understatement.

Twickenham is the home ground of English rugby.

Twickenham is the home ground of English rugby. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"Oh, the Rugby World Cup's coming up? Where's it on this time?" was typical of the responses I'd get from Londoners when telling them of my job covering the tournament for Radio New Zealand.

I'd forage through the sports pages of the papers for news on how the English side was shaping up in preparation for their first hosting of the Cup since 1991.

It was often a fruitless search, with any mention of the oval ball game lost in the deluge of football transfer rumours and speculation.

And while the All Blacks World Cup squad announcement was a glitzy affair at Parliament, with the Prime Minister on hand for the announcement, there was no such fanfare for the host nation.

It was made like any routine team naming at 1.45 on a Thursday afternoon, with David Cameron nowhere to be seen.

However, slowly but surely, excitement seems to be building for the tournament.

I was pleased to note there were no fewer than five pages of rugby coverage in Friday's Evening Standard, including the typically pessimistic headline emblazoned on the coveted back page: 'England Not Ready For Cup' (the story on Wayne Rooney's pursuit of England Football's all-time goal-scoring record was relegated to page two of the sport section).

Organisers will be pleased with ticket sales, with fewer than 50,000 of the 2.45 million available tickets still unsold, putting it on track for the best attendance ever at a Rugby World Cup.

The satirical news website The Daily Mash suggested last week that many locals may join the bandwagon once the tournament begins, but there already seems to be increased interest from genuine rugby fans.

More than 80,000 turned out to Twickenham at the weekend to see England beat Ireland in their final warm-up match and boy-band Take That this week headlined the side's 'official send-off' event at the O2 Arena.

That feeling of goodwill around the team and the sport should only intensify as foreign teams and fans begin arriving later this week and, provided the hosts can safely navigate their tricky "pool of death", it remains possible the tournament could grip this football-mad nation for the next eight weeks.

Radio New Zealand's Alex Coogan-Reeves is over in England and will be following the All Blacks on their quest to win the Rugby World Cup again this year.

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