Officially official: Australia's RWC confirmation sets up greatest calendar game has seen

Not even another rainy day, on the wettest year to date on record, could spoil this moment in Sydney.

With only four hours to go until it was officially official, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up in green and gold, images of the Wallabies and Wallaroos beamed onto the iconic landmark in a sign Australia's twin Rugby World Cup bids were home and hosed.

Forget any remaining concern about an 11th hour entry from some other nation, the 2027 and 2029 Rugby World Cups are heading Down Under -- and have been for some time.

While Rugby Australia had done its best to play down the tournament's potential return to these shores for the first time since 2003, the governing body had virtually been competing against itself for the past five months -- and for the most part the six months before that, too.

While the United States were rumoured to be lining up twin bids of their own, they were always seen as more suited to the 2031 and 2033 tournaments. England's Rugby Football Union, meanwhile, discussed throwing its hat in the ring for the 2027 men's event as a means of regaining the financial losses brought about by COVID, but never really explored the opportunity with any great commitment.

The talk of a Russian bid, meanwhile, never eventuated thankfully and the nation's Rugby Union has now rightfully been removed as a World Rugby member anyway.

No, the 2027 World Cup has been Australia's tournament for some time, while the women's event in 2029 has only gathered recent steam, but now gives the nation arguably the greatest succession of events professional rugby has ever seen.

From the British & Irish Lions series in 2025, to the 2027 and 2029 World Cups, and then 2032 Brisbane Olympics, Rugby Australia has secured the game's four great international events in the space of seven years.

It is an international calendar the NRL and AFL can only dream of, while the Socceroos will also look on with envy. Hopefully, they will also have an opportunity to experience the pride and joy the Matildas will feel when the FIFA World Cup is played Down Under next year; that event will be an early taste of what the Wallabies and Wallaroos can expect in the future, too.

"Tonight's World Rugby announcement will be the most significant moment in Australian rugby's history since winning RWC 1991 that put Rugby on the map in Oz," Wallabies great Tim Horan tweeted in the lead-up to Thursday's announcement. "Hosting men's 2027 and women's 2029 RWC will grow participation and provide financial security for our game for generations."

It certainly does have the ability to set the game up, but only if the sizeable financial windfall is spent in the right areas. And that, for the lion's share, means at the grassroots.

Already RA has signaled its intention to setup an endowment fund with the money that flows from the Lions series and then the World Cups, cash that, as Horan says, should never see the game return to the precipice of amateurism, as RA chairman Hamish McLennan warned early on amid the COVID pandemic's onset.

The game has undergone a complete overhaul off the field over the past two years, with McLennan and chief executive Andy Marinos recognising just how valuable a successful World Cup bid could be.

RA's recent financial report showed things are headed in the right direction, though there are still significant loans to be paid off, which the governing body believes it can do by 2025 following the Lions series.

On the field, meanwhile, the Wallabies appear to be trending in the right direction, bringing through not only a group of players who will be very competitive in France next year, but also then be at their peak when the 2027 World Cup rolls around.

Former RA chief executive Raelene Castle came in for considerable criticism as the game spiraled out of control at the start of the pandemic, but without her in charge the Wallabies may have never brought Dave Rennie to Australia - a move that has already paid dividends.

The Wallaroos, and women's rugby on the whole, perhaps suffered the most through 2020 and 2021. With a Super W competition cancelled in 2020, and then played in truncated fashion last year, Australian rugby fans at last got to see the growth of the women's game and its limitless potential this season, culminating in a gripping final between Fijiana Drua and the Waratahs at the recent Super Round.

Then, at last, the Wallaroos returned to the Test arena for the first time in 956 days, defeating Fijiana in Brisbane last week. Australia's shock loss to Japan on Tuesday will have stung, but what a motivator Thursday night's announcement will be for a team that at last has a fully-fledged Test calendar on the road to New Zealand this year.

So after years of defending their sport, perhaps even shuffling the gold jersey to the back of the closet, Australian rugby fans can at last truly look ahead to brighter days.

Those who have deserted the game may even be inspired to come back, while this exceptional run of events should hopefully inspire the next generation of Wallabies and Wallaroos who will be running out around the country when the tournaments again cycle back Down Under in another 24 years or so.

The impact of Charlotte Caslick and her Olympic Sevens teammates from Rio was almost instant, this calendar can have a similar effect -- but supercharged.

Who knows: Perhaps Australia will have some rugby silverware to celebrate between now and then?

That wasn't the case on a wet Sydney night in 2003 when the Wallabies missed out on the game's ultimate prize, the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Almost 19 years later, on another dreary Sydney night, there is only joy -- and certainly no sign of Jonny Wilkinson.

This was a night for the game's true believers -- so too Australian rugby's generation next who are about to learn just how good they've got it. The World Cup bids are officially official.