What a difference a year makes. With the year drawing to a close and the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2015 gaining momentum, Rugby World Cup looks back at some of the highlights from the last 12 months.
For the 12 qualified teams, the year started with December 2012's pool allocation draw fresh in the memory. But for the many RWC 2015 hopefuls, the race for qualification was only just beginning. In Europe, Georgia, Russia, Romania, Spain, Portugal and Belgium all started the year by preparing for the European Nations Cup Division 1A and the start of the journey towards England.
The battle for the Europe 1 and 2 qualification spots at RWC 2015 kicked off with three tight clashes. As it turned out, the biggest winning margin across the opening round of matches was just six points. But by the end of the month, defending champions Georgia and traditional rivals Romania had clearly set the pace, with both teams maintaining perfect starts after three rounds of matches.
Tournament organisers England 2015 confirmed the addition of Sandy Park, home of Premiership Rugby side Exeter Chiefs, to the long list of match venues. Georgia eventually finished top of the European Nations Cup Division 1A standings on point differential after a 9-9 draw with rivals Romania.
The RWC 2015 team base search and selection programme launched in April in a bid to identify up to 50 bases to host the 20 competing teams and take the tournament to local communities across the country. In Asia, Sri Lanka's RWC dream remained alive after they comprehensively beat Kazakhstan 49-18 to win the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division 1 title. This meant promotion to the Top 5 for Sri Lanka which in 2014 will determine the Asia 1 qualifier for RWC 2015.
13 match venues in 10 English host cities, plus Cardiff, were announced in May — Twickenham Stadium (London), Wembley Stadium (London), Olympic Stadium (London), Millennium Stadium (Cardiff), Manchester City Stadium (Manchester), St James' Park (Newcastle), Elland Road (Leeds), Leicester City Stadium (Leicester), Villa Park (Birmingham), Kingsholm Stadium (Gloucester), Stadium MK (Milton Keynes), Brighton Community Stadium (Brighton) and Sandy Park (Exeter) were all confirmed to host RWC 2015 matches.
The tournament match schedule was also revealed, with 48 matches set to be played over six weeks between September 18 and October 31, 2015.
In South America, Uruguay continued their dream of a place at RWC 2015 after beating Chile 23-9 on the final day of the CONSUR South American Championship in Montevideo. The victory set up a home and away play-off against either Canada or USA for the right to progress to RWC 2015 as the Americas 2 qualifier.
More than 400 tour operators expressed an interest in becoming Official Travel Agents for RWC 2015, reaffirming the growth of the sport and RWC as one of the world's 'must-see' major sporting events. Meanwhile in Africa, Namibia remained in the hunt for a place at RWC 2015 after beating Tunisia 45-13 to win the Africa Cup Division 1B title.
Tahiti, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea fought out the first stage of the Oceania regional qualification process for RWC 2015. The Cook Islands eventually beat Papua New Guinea in the final of the Oceania Cup and set up a clash against Fiji, with the winner set to join Pool A alongside England, Wales and Australia.
Madagascar defeated Uganda 48-32 in front of a 40,000-strong crowd to retain their place in the top division of the Confederation Africaine de Rugby Africa Cup in Antananarivo. The win moved Madagascar to within two matches of qualifying for RWC 2015.
Canada became the first direct qualifier for RWC 2015 after defeating the USA 40-20 over two legs. The win meant that Canada joined RWC 2011 runners-up France, Ireland, Italy and the Europe 2 qualifier in Pool D.
Gilbert Rugby kicked off September by launching the design of the official RWC 2015 match ball. Rugby fans across the world then marked two years to go until RWC 2015 on September 18. Two years out, preparations for RWC 2015 were clearly right on track with the match venues and tournament schedule confirmed, and detailed delivery plans for one of the world's largest sporting events already in place.
Also coinciding with the two years to go milestone, rugby posts popped up in parks across England as part of the Rugby Football Union's 'Posts in the Parks' legacy program. Aimed at broadening the appeal of rugby and reaching out to new audiences, the RFU confirmed that up to 100 posts will be installed in the 10 English host cities in the build-up to RWC 2015.
Shaun the Sheep, star of the global TV series, rounded off a busy month by joining the RWC 2015 flock to help boost rugby awareness and engagement among young audiences.
October saw the launch of the Young Rugby Ambassadors program, under which youngsters from across the country will build up excitement about RWC 2015 in their communities.
Global logistics giant DHL were appointed as a Worldwide Partner of RWC 2015. As the Official Logistics Partner, DHL agreed to provide support with all freight logistics for the 20 participating teams at the tournament.
The month ended with a repeat of the breath-taking RWC 2003 final, as rugby legends from England and Australia pulled their national jerseys back on for a charity match at the Twickenham Stoop in London. In a near-repeat of the RWC 2003 Final, England ran out narrow winners.
Official Travel Agents for RWC 2015 were announced in November, following a comprehensive tender evaluation and selection process by Rugby Travel and Hospitality. RWC 2011 winning captain Richie McCaw then returned the Webb Ellis Cup to Rugby World Cup Limited chairman Bernard Lapasset in the official handover ceremony at the IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition in Dublin.
In England, the Rugby Youth Partnership launched jointly with the Youth Sports Trust. Under the Rugby Youth Partnership initiative, school children across the country will get a chance to be a part of the excitement around RWC 2015 with the School Rugby Ambassadors programme, innovative teaching resource packs and the identification of pupils to participate in welcome ceremonies for the 20 teams.
The ticketing programme and kick-off times for RWC 2015 were subsequently announced, allowing fans around the world to plan their tournament. 2.3 million tickets were confirmed to go on sale in 2014, with entry prices as low as £7 (F21) for children and £15 ($46) for adults and more than one million tickets priced at £100 (F$93) or less. The balanced match schedule will see matches kick off at 12:00, 14:30, 17:00 and 20:00 GMT during the pool phase.
With less than two years to go until RWC 2015 and just in time for the festive season shopping rush, a new RWC store, stocking a full range of official merchandise, opened at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Central London. The opening followed the successful launch of the first shop in Kingston in November. Plans are already underway to open a further flagship store in the heart of London.