Rugby ball. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Rugby ball. Picture: THINKSTOCK

Singapore — Japan’s hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup has created "nervousness" about whether big crowds will turn up but national pride will carry the day for the Japanese, World Rugby chief operating officer Alan Gilpin says.

It will be the first time the tournament will be held in Asia and outside of the sport’s traditional strongholds, but Gilpin expects audiences to fill up the stadiums.

"It’s not just the first World Cup in Asia, it’s the first World Cup outside of the traditional rugby strongholds. So that definitely presents some challenges," he told a conference in Singapore on Monday.

"It creates some nervousness. Will we have sold-out stadiums, will we have the same level of audience engagement, the same engagement we had in previous world cups? The answer is yes, we will."

Gilpin said 2017 was a "critical year" for Japan as it ramped up the campaign to promote the tournament, to be held in 12 cities across the country over six weeks.

But Japan already has a base to build on after they pulled off a major shock by upsetting South Africa in the 2015 World Cup, boosting Japanese interest in the sport, he said.

"National pride will drive much of the media coverage of the tournament so we will need the media to stay engaged with us for six weeks," Gilpin said at the All That Matters conference.

"I think they will turn up in their droves not just to watch Japan but to watch the World Cup in their home city. They’re great sports fans and great fans of big events," he said, adding the Japanese would "put themselves under pressure" to make the event a success.

World Rugby hopes to use the 2019 tournament to promote the sport in Asia, where football has an overwhelming dominance, Gilpin said.

A year later Japan will also host the 2020 Olympic Games, where Rugby Sevens is one of the events.

Gilpin said Rugby Sevens would be at the vanguard of promoting the sport in Asia as it is simpler compared with 15-a-side rugby union.

AFP

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