'Smaller rugby nations becoming more keen on World Cup'

Research shows there is a growing interest outside major playing countries.

FILE: Rugby fans in Brighton ahead of the Springboks opening match against Japan share their rugby regalia creations on 19 September, 2015. Picture: Vumani Mkhize/EWN.

LONDON - Japan's shock victory over South Africa on Saturday captured the imagination of fans across the world and came at the perfect time to build on growing interest in the sport, according to research gauging the popularity of the Rugby World Cup outside the major playing countries.

Interest levels of fans before the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups were compared in a selection of nations with teams ranked outside the world's top 10.

Italy, Spain, Thailand, India, Malaysia and the United States are among countries where interest levels have increased significantly.

"Growing the fan base of a sport remains central to its success," said Mike Wragg, head of market research for Repucom, the company that carried out the survey.

"The Rugby World Cup has done a huge amount over the last decade or so to bring the sport to a truly global scale."

The 2019 World Cup will be held in Japan, the first time it has been staged in Asia.

"Japan's win over South Africa on the tournament's opening weekend shone a spotlight on the game's emerging teams and, potentially, regions and markets for commercial growth of rugby itself," Wragg said.

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