England's highest-profile pool matches at next year's World Cup - against Fiji, Wales and Australia - will be massively oversubscribed when tickets went on general sale overnight, largely because 75 per cent of them have already been sold.
Only around 20,000 seats at the 82,000-capacity Twickenham Stadium, where all three contests will be staged, are available to the public following early distribution to governing bodies, sponsors, hospitality companies, travel groups and rugby clubs.
Tournament organisers will use a ballot system to allocate tickets for the most popular fixtures, arguing it is fairer than a "first come, first served" policy and will help minimise the business conducted on the black market.
But their strategy has been criticised by Twickenham debenture holders, some of whom were threatening court action earlier in the year, and by members of the England Rugby Supporters' Club, an organisation set up by the Rugby Football Union.
"Like many others, I've followed the team for years, through bad times as well as good, and was expecting some form of priority when it came to World Cup matches," said an ERSC member yesterday.
"My hopes were high when we were told back in June that we could go online ahead of the public sale and buy tickets. So we could - for all games except those three headline fixtures at Twickenham.
"Whether or not you think we should have priority, the average rugby supporter is going to find it very difficult to watch England at their own World Cup. I'm not alone in thinking the system stinks."
Joanna Manning-Cooper, the director of communications and marketing at the World Cup delivery organisation England 2015, confirmed yesterday there were strict limits on the number of tickets available for general sale.
"We have half of the total ticket allocation to distribute," she said. "The rest are distributed by the International Rugby Board to unions, travelling supporter packages, hospitality, sponsors etc.
"Of our tickets, around 50 per cent were made available to fans through clubs in our 'rugby community sale' between May and July. By the time that sale was extended to ERSC members, all the England tickets had been sold."
Of course, those with deep pockets will have no problem buying seats for the major contests. While the cheapest adult seat for the crucial England-Wales game on 9 September is £75 (NZ$149), England Rugby Travel, an official partner of the RFU, is offering the self-same grade of ticket for £399 (NZ$795) as part of a "day return" package including transport. Their most expensive package, which offers a night in the Dorchester Hotel, is £1,549 ($NZ3,070).
The police expect a concerted attempt by fraudsters to set up ticket scams when the online application process opens today. City of London Police Commander Steve Head warned the various ruses would be "sophisticated and very convincing" and added: "We are urging supporters not to be fooled by cheap or discounted tickets and to buy only from official sources."
On the club front, Harlequins and Saracens have made a single change to their starting line-ups for tonight's Premiership derby at the Stoop. Ollie Lindsay-Hague replaces the injured Ugo Monye on the left wing for Quins, while the visitors have promoted the blind-side flanker Jackson Wray ahead of the Scotland captain Kelly Brown. Owen Farrell, the England outside-half, must settle for a seat on the Sarries bench for the second time in six days.
- The Independent