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Rugby World Cup: Why England matches hit by empty seats as frustration mounts

Rugby World Cup: Why England matches hit by empty seats as frustration mounts

Empty chairs at sold-out tables have become the unwanted conundrum of England’s last two Rugby World Cup matches.

England have had more than 5,000 vacant seats in their Pool D victories over Japan and Chile.

All the tickets have been sold, and yet swathes of empty spaces have popped up around both the Allianz Riviera in Nice and Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille.

This World Cup is meant to carry a Bastille Day national holiday-style celebration for France. For many supporters though, the experience has been more like Les Miserables.

Deciphering the riddle of quite how two sell-out matches can wind up with crowds falling way below capacity is far from straightforward.

The crux of the matter boils down to resale platforms however, and the ease with which members of the public can lay their hands on tickets that original purchasers no longer want.

Supporters can put any purchased tickets up for resale on the official Rugby World Cup platform, where they can be sold again, for face value.

Empty seats: Sold-out England games have not been full houses at the Rugby World Cup (PA)
Empty seats: Sold-out England games have not been full houses at the Rugby World Cup (PA)

Tournament organisers have set up the platform in order to stop secondary resale sites from dominating sales and driving up prices.

The system has fallen down however where ticket holders in tour groups change plans and opt not to attend certain fixtures.

Some supporters appear to have expected tour operators to organise the redistribution of unwanted tickets, but that seems not to have been the case.

This has left tickets going to waste rather than being resold, as surplus tickets were never posted on the resale site.

England fans sat at home or in the pub in the UK could have been forgiven for watching the wins over Japan and Chile and wishing they had had the chance to buy those unused and unloved tickets.

Logistics such as ticket operations have been handled by the France 2023 organising committee for this tournament.

Global governing body World Rugby will take such elements back within their auspices for the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

This is scant solace for anyone who may have jumped at the chance for a last-minute ticket for either match, but who never had the opportunity.

Travel tribulations and stadium access issues have also contributed to a sense of wider frustration among supporters on a tournament that is yet to ignite fully.

Travel tribulations and stadium access issues have contributed to a sense of wider frustration among fans

Throw in the truncated pool stage – albeit for the vital consideration of player welfare – and this World Cup’s impact is not quite cutting through as desired to date.

The knockout stages are bound to capture wider imaginations, and Ireland’s supreme 13-8 win over South Africa on Saturday proved a mouthwatering tempter of blockbusting battles ahead.

The debacle of slipshod stewarding at England’s opener, the 27-10 win over Argentina in Marseille, proved an inauspicious start in the extreme for the competition’s logistics.

Tournament chiefs and World Rugby were hugely fortunate that the thousands of fans caught in a crush trying to enter the Stade Velodrome were not hurt.

General stewarding numbers have since been increased and any issues have reduced, but supporters have noted teething problems across the venue spectrum in France.

Scores of fans missed the first 20 minutes of the Argentina clash, as the stewards simply could not cope with the volume of people trying to enter the stadium in the two hours before kick-off.

This World Cup has been billed as the most sustainable yet, but the team base system has led to more travelling than in past tournaments.

Where previously teams would just hop from match city to match city, on a standard tour, in this World Cup there is toing and froing between home base and match venues.

While each team will naturally warm to their home base setting, the back-and-forth nature of the travel has certainly increase it at this World Cup.

For all the foibles though, the rugby has been encapsulating and will ramp up when the knockout matches finally kick into gear.