The Rugby Football Union will force England to play their 2019 Rugby World Cup warm-up matches at Twickenham unless there is a clear performance advantage of taking one of them to Japan, despite head coach Eddie Jones’ desire to maximise his squad’s chances of adapting to the country.
Jones has been keen to stress the importance of understanding Japan on a cultural and environmental basis as well as a rugby one, and hinted last month ahead of his recce to Japan that he hopes to play a warm-up match there before the global gathering gets underway.
But new RFU chief executive Steve Brown made it clear that the governing body need the money generated by hosting games at Twickenham to fund the expansive plans that he has, and confirmed that England’s World Cup preparations have already been structured, two years before the tournament gets underway.
“At the moment that's not the plan as I understand it,” Brown said of taking at least one warm-up match to Japan. “But if there was some activity en route that would give us a performance advantage we'll talk about it.
“The warm up games are already structured. But if [playing abroad] was a critical part of Eddie's plans we'd have to listen to it because we want to win.”
It comes just six weeks after Jones took his England coaching staff to Japan to analyse potential headquarters for the 2019 campaign, with the Australian publicly expressing his concerns about how the players would adapt to the differing climates that they could experience in the Asian country.
"We've got a pretty good idea of when we'll arrive and we're just finalising our pre-World Cup camps and where they will be,” Jones said ahead of that trip. “We'll look to come here around 3-6 September and there is a possibility of playing a warm-up game shortly after that. We are looking to play similar teams to the ones we face in the pool stages.”
The RFU makes around £10m from Test matches held at Twickenham against the other leading nations such as Six Nations opponents and the Rugby Championship quartet, and taking one of the two or three warm-up games away from the stadium in the same year as when the potential for a £40m haul from the autumn internationals is lost would provide a real blow to the RFU’s coffers.
But it could yet jeopardise Jones’ plans to see England return to the top of the game for the first time since they beat his own Australia side in 2003, and Brown added that the governing body will continue to invest whatever is needed to fund the two-year preparation phase ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“We have always invested substantial sums in the preparation for the World Cup and different people use different things and have different priorities,” Brown said. “Eddie’s is very much about the experience piece to get a real feel for what is going on. Eddie is mixing things up a bit by going to Oxford and going to Brighton and some community work the players as well.
“Some of it is not that expensive – it is just different. The World Cup is an expensive time for us because it is also a time we don’t generate any income either with no autumn internationals.”
Because of that need to generate as much money as possible, the prospect of moving home Six Nations and autumn internationals – as well as the World Cup warm-ups – away from the capital appear to be impossible.
Brown added: “In the short to medium term moving one of those seven games away from here would be commercially quite a challenge for us.”