Sport Rugby World Cup

Saturday 22 July 2017

The real work starts now - How Ireland will beat France and South Africa to 2023 Rugby World Cup

IRFU and government hope substance behind glitzy launch package will help to secure coveted prize of hosting 10th Rugby World Cup

Brian O'Driscoll and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the bid launch last November. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brian O'Driscoll and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the bid launch last November. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland's bid to host the 2023 World Cup was officially launched yesterday, but work on delivering the tournament has been ongoing for some time.

The gathering of figures from the worlds of sport and politics at the Aviva Stadium may have had more show than substance, but it forms an important part of a process that started long before IRFU president Stephen Hilditch and Taoiseach Enda Kenny sounded the starting gun at noon.

The presence of government officials from north and south indicates the stability behind the bid, with the government set to underwrite the cost to the tune of €320m which includes paying the £120m tournament fee.

In turn, the organisers hope to generate at least €800m for the economy through the bid.

Dulcet

The presentations and slick promotional video featuring Liam Neeson's dulcet tones will help drum up public support, but the deliverance of the tournament will be achieved behind the scenes in the corridors of power at World Rugby.

The governing body's Council will decide whether Ireland, France or South Africa will host the tenth World Cup. The make-up of that Council is up for discussion this week and results of World Rugby's year-long review into their structures will have a large bearing on the task facing the three countries vying for the right to host the tournament.

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World Rugby are expected to increase the representation from Tier Two nations and expand the voting rights beyond the countries that currently hold the power.

Voting will take place this time next year, with the three competing nations abstaining. It is a first-past-the-post system with a secret ballot and, if there is no winner after round one, the country with the least votes will be eliminated.

So, the three nations chasing votes are on the charm offensive. Ireland are heavily courting the North American vote; they'll visit the United States for a second time in June on their way to their two-Test summer tour of Japan and hosted Canada last week.

This week's World Rugby awards and conference offered another opportunity to drum up support and you can rest easy that the red carpet is out for the New Zealand and Australian officials in town for the upcoming November Tests.

"There are no votes in the bag at all," Browne said. "The reality is that we've just launched and it's up to us to go out over the next 12 months and persuade people of the value and benefit of our bid to world rugby.

"Yes, we've started our conversations. We've started our conversations in Chicago with the Canadians and the US, we met people yesterday in London and we'll be meeting more people between now and Christmas, and after Christmas.

"So the hard work really starts now in terms of actually putting the detail on the bid and then having those conversations, trying to persuade people that our bid is of value to World Rugby."

The IRFU have ruled out hosting any games off-shore. Their understanding is that World Rugby would prefer the tournament to take place in one country rather than across borders as in previous years.

Both South Africa in 1995 and France in 2007 have hosted the World Cup in full and Brian O'Driscoll hopes that the newness of the bid will be a plus point.

"I think it's very important," he said.

"We're trying to grow rugby, break into new ground from a playing point of view, but that has to also be mirrored in trying to push it into new hosting nations as well.

"If we go back to the same old, same old, people will confuse memories as to when certain tournaments took place. France only took place in 2007. It's not that long ago. If you look to 2023 and how the country would embrace the whole thing, I think we're on to an absolute winner."

The support of the GAA is crucial to the bid's success.

The semi-finals and final would take place at Croke Park, while Páirc Uí Chaoimh would likely host a last-eight game as the organisers try to avoid being too Dublin-centric.

After 13 stadiums hosted games in England last year, World Rugby are thought to prefer a smaller number of venues in future tournaments and yesterday's longlist of 12 is set to be reduced to eight-to-10 when the final decision is taken.

Missed

Architecture and event planning firm WilsonOwensOwens were commisioned by the union to vet and select the stadia for the tournament bid and it was on their recommendation that the likes of Semple Stadium and the Gaelic Grounds missed the cut.

If the GAA are given permission to go ahead with the redevelopment of Casement Park, it is likely to edge Derry's Celtic Park off the list, while Salthill's Pearse Stadium would probably get the nod ahead of MacHale Park.

All of the GAA venues used would require facelifts, which would be covered in the overall tournament budget.

"Remedial work covers things like floodlighting, big screens, media centres, hospitality, putting in additional seating into some of stadia," project leader and IRFU chief operations officer Kevin Potts said.

"We want to have at least a certain mix of different seating in all of the stadia, and yes, we're also looking at some of the terracing and covering it.

"All of our stadiums require some work. A Rugby World Cup like any good sporting finals lifts the standards of stadiums.

"It's not just a case of rocking up to Jones' Road and wrapping a banner around it, it needs to be upped to a standard for a Rugby World Cup and a global final, but all of the required overlay has been planned, it has already been costed and we'll get into more detail and drawings and imagery in the coming months."

Retaining terracing is key to making tickets affordable, according to Browne.

"We think retaining a certain level of standing terraces does two things for us," he said. "Firstly, it provides us with the opportunity to sell tickets at an accessible price to real rugby fans. We believe that's an important thing to do.

"The second thing we can do is, for those of you who are around long enough: the atmosphere in most rugby grounds is generated on the terrace.

"The values of rugby are camaraderie friendship, respect - those are values that are effectively emphasised by standing terraces. Many regret that in the Aviva Stadium we couldn't retain the terraces.

"We've retained terraces in Thomond Park and in Ravenhill and obviously the big GAA grounds have some level of standing room as well."

From a rugby perspective, work is already under way to ensure that Ireland would be competitive at their home World Cup.

"What we have to ensure is that our national team retains its position as a competitive international force and that doesn't happen by accident, it happens by design," Browne said as he hailed the work of performance director David Nucifora, head coach Joe Schmidt and the provincial coaches.

Asked about the possibility of Schmidt remaining in charge to guide Ireland in 2023, he replied: "Give us a break. We've only just persuaded him to stay until 2019!"

For now, the New Zealander is focused on the visit of the All Blacks and further on-field success. Behind the scenes, the bid team will lobby away in the hope of securing the votes.

"At the end of the day you could have the best bid, but if you don't get the votes you don't win so it is up to us to manage that whole process and go out with a compelling pitch," Browne concluded.

"That's what the IRFU have to do over the next 12 months. The government can't make that pitch."

Irish Independent

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