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Ex-Wallaby Kearns leads Aussie bid for 2027 Rugby World Cup

SYDNEY (AP) — Two-time World Cup winner Phil Kearns will lead the Australian bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup. Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan on Wednesday said Kearns would be executive director of the bid team. Kearns, a hooker and former Wallabies captain, played 67 tests for Australia and won the World Cup titles in 1991 and '99.

Australia co-hosted the inaugural Rugby World Cup with New Zealand in 1987 and staged it solo in 2003, when it lost the final to England in extra time. The 20-nation Rugby World Cup in 2027 is scheduled for Sept. 10 to Oct. 23. Japan hosted the Rugby World Cup last year, the first time the tournament has been staged in Asia, and the next edition will be held in France in 2023.

Russia and Argentina had indicated interest in bidding for 2027, but Argentina pulled out in April. World Rugby has said it plans to announce the successful bidders for both 2027 and 2031 World Cup tournaments in late 2021 or early 2022.

Kearns was a vocal critic of Rugby Australia just two months ago. He and several former Wallabies captains signed a letter that called for the organization’s leadership to stand aside. Former chief executive Raelene Castle and chairman Cameron Clyne are both gone, making it easier for Kearns to get on board after being approached by new chairman McLennan.

Kearns said it was a vote of confidence in the direction the organization was now taking, as well as improvements on the field in Super Rugby. “Over the last three or four weeks in particular there’s been a really big shift in confidence in a lot of people that I talk to, and I do think it’s heading in the right direction,“ Kearns said, adding that McLennan and interim CEO Rob Clarke "are talking about the right things, doing the right things.”

Kearns lost out on the CEO role to Castle in 2017 and was believed to be in the running for the current vacancy but he said that was now off the table. “I think this will put paid to that aspiration,” Kearns said. “There’s a couple of really big roles in Australian rugby at the moment and this is certainly one of them."

Kearns said hosting another Rugby World Cup would help the country get back on its rugby feet. “One of the things that swayed me was the importance of this in terms of the future financial health of the game,” he said, indicating the billions of dollars in economic value gained by Japan when it hosted the tournament last year. “And we will be coming out of a downturn of COVID-19 by then, so this could be a really critical boost to our economy and to underpin our game.”

McLennan has recruited a high-profile advisory board to help with the bidding process, including International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and 1999 World Cup-winning Wallabies captain John Eales.

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