By Nick Butler at the Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin

Bernard Lapasset spoke to open the IRB General Assembly in Dublin ©AFP/Getty ImagesNovember 17 - International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Bernard Lapasset has opened the governing body's 11th General Assembly here today with player welfare and Olympic participation the leading items on the agenda.

The meeting, which is being held alongside the inaugural IRB Rugby Conference and Exhibition, opened with an address by Lapasset which reflected the progress being made in the sport over the last two years.

In particular, he highlighted how the sport is now played by a record 5.5 million men, women and children, while he also looked ahead to the opportunities and challenges facing the game in "a congested global sports and entertainment market".

The General Assembly will also witness the handing back to the IRB of the Webb Ellis Cup, the World Cup winners trophy, by New Zealand team captain Richie McCaw, as well as the induction of legends from various British and Irish Lions tours to the IRB Hall of Fame.

Bernard Lapasset awards Richie McCaw the IRB World Player of the Year award in 2012 ©Getty ImagesBernard Lapasset awards Richie McCaw the IRB World Player of the Year award in 2012 ©Getty Images

Delegates from the IRB's 118 Member Unions, as well as six regional associations, are attending the key biennial meeting, which "brings together the global rugby family for two days of discussion, forums and workshops".

How the game is played, packaged and promoted, will be items on the agenda, as well as an update from the IRB Medical Commission concerning the delivery of player welfare programmes.

"This is a pivotal and exciting time for our sport, following an unprecedented period of investment, growth and commercial success," Lapasset said.

"We are presented with golden opportunities to grow participation, to grow audiences from the stadium to the armchair and to establish rugby as a truly global sport for all.

"We have exciting opportunities ahead.

"Rugby World Cups in England in 2015 and Japan in 2019, when the tournament will go to Asia for the first time, will drive growth and profile impetus, while we are already maximising the wonderful opportunity that Olympic inclusion has brought to our sport.

"We also need to ensure as we grow that our participation strategies reach and inspire new boys and girls and that we continue to drive forward player welfare, integrity promotion and the fight against doping in sport.

"But rugby's future offers far more opportunities than challenges."

Meanwhile, preparations are being made for the Conference which is due to open tomorrow with an official ceremony headed by Lapasset.

Preparations are fully underway for the inaugural World Rugby Conference in Dublin ©World RugbyPreparations are fully underway for the inaugural World Rugby Conference in Dublin ©World Rugby

It will feature more than 600 delegates and 30 exhibitors - consisting of key decision makers from the world of rugby as well as leading industry suppliers - representing nearly 120 countries.

A hubbub of activity began gradually over the weekend with many of the delegates arriving early to watch Ireland's international contest with Australia, which was held barely a stray kick away at the Aviva Stadium.

Speakers on the opening day will include Debbie Jevans, chief executive of the 2015 World Cup in England; Leo Varadkar, Ireland's Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport; and the IRB's head of the Rugby World Cup, Kit McConnell.

Other speakers later in the week will include British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Sebastian Coe and European Olympic Committees (EOC) President Patrick Hickey.