Wales face battle to play any World Cup games at Millennium Stadium

Wales Rugby

Wales may have cheekily suggested that the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff would be the appropriate venue for their 2015 World Cup pool match against England, but their presence in the same group as the tournament hosts has landed a potentially mortal blow on their hopes of appearing at all at their home ground.

Australia, the third tier-one nation in the pool, will lead the opposition to Wales playing any of their games at the Millennium Stadium, one of 17 venues shortlisted for the event even though the Rugby Football Union won the bid to host the tournament on a stand-alone basis.

The five-team group will be made up by the top qualifiers from Oceania, which will most probably be Fiji, and the winners of a play-off between teams who fail to qualify for the World Cup final via their regions. Australia's argument, which will not be countered by England, is that the principle of a one-nation tournament means that any countries drawn in the same pool as the hosts should not concede home advantage to a second team.

The question of whether Wales will play any of their matches at their home stadium will be resolved by England Rugby 2015 in conjunction with the fiveā€‘man Rugby World Cup board which is made up of the International Rugby Board chairman, Bernard Lapasset, his deputy, Oregan Hoskins, the chief executive Brett Gosper and, as fate would have it, David Pickering, the chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, and John O'Neill, who has just stood down as the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union.

The IRB decided in May last year that the Millennium Stadium would be among the grounds used in the 2015 World Cup. The idea then was that up to five matches would be staged in Cardiff and that none would involve Wales. Since then, the WRU has argued that with the only revenue for the tournament hosts coming through ticket sales, it would make commercial sense for Wales to play their pool matches there, and perhaps a quarter-final, with an acceptance that their game against a tier-one rival would be staged in England.

That was before Wales lost all four of their autumn internationals and dropped out of the top eight of the world rankings, putting them in a pool not just with two tier-one nations but the hosts. "That changes everything," said one IRB member on Tuesday. "While Wales playing Fiji in Cardiff may have meant more ticket sales than at a football ground over the border, the result of that match could potentially have a bearing on the hosts' qualification for the quarter-final.

"Wales are not a host, just a venue that is being hired and there is a fairness issue that RWC has to be fully aware of, not just the question of the hosts being potentially compromised. The simplest thing would be to drop the Millennium Stadium from the shortlist of venues because it is not in England and at the very least there should be an assurance Wales will not be playing there."

Steve Tew, the chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union, revealed in an interview with the Guardian during last year's World Cup that he was against Wales playing in Cardiff. "We are currently seeing the benefit of the tournament being played in one country," he said. "Our eyebrows were raised a little bit when England talked about holding games in Wales in 2015. It will happen and I hope Wales will not be playing in Cardiff. If it all comes down to money, they will be. I can see why they would want to play matches there but it would be a World Cup in two nations."

As Tew pointed out, one of the arguments the RFU put forward for including the Millennium Stadium among the venues was its convenience for English fans living in the west country, the south-west and the Marches, but the M5 is not likely to come to a standstill if Wales are playing Fiji or Namibia in Cardiff.

A decision on the venues will be made by the end of March. England Rugby 2015 will lead the debate, but the RWC board will have the final say. There are sure to be heated exchanges between O'Neill and Pickering, and not just because of their respective nationalities. O'Neill was the campaign organiser for Lapasset in last year's election for the IRB chair with Pickering leading the charge for Bill Beaumont, who lost by two votes.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Rees, for The Guardian on Tuesday 4th December 2012 22.03 Europe/London

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