'We're up for the fight' - Ireland refusing to give up on hosting 2023 Rugby World Cup despite massive setback
South Africa has received the World Rugby board's recommendation to host the 2023 World Cup.
The announcement almost certainly ends Ireland's hopes of staging the tournament on its own for the first time.
An official decision will not be made until November 15 although South Africa is all but guaranteed to pip Ireland and France, with World Rugby's council unlikely to go against its board.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: "The comprehensive and independently scrutinised evaluation reaffirmed that we have three exceptional bids but it also identified South Africa as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria, which is supported by the board in the recommendation."
The host candidate evaluation report assessed a series of categories: vision and hosting concept, tournament organisation and schedule, venues and host cities, tournament infrastructure, and finance, commercial and commitments.
Each was weighted as a percentage and then combined, with South Africa receiving the highest mark of 78.97 per cent, with France on 75.88 per cent and Ireland 72.25 per cent.
Beaumont added: "I would like to congratulate South Africa on a superb bid and all the bid teams for their dedication and professionalism throughout the process to date.
"Our colleagues on the World Rugby council will now meet on 15 November in London to consider the board's recommendation and vote to decide the host of Rugby World Cup 2023."
South Africa last staged the World Cup in 1995, the first major sporting event the country hosted following the end of apartheid and the final tournament under rugby union's amateur era.
The Springboks defeated New Zealand in the final, and the sight of Nelson Mandela in a South African rugby jersey and cap, presenting the Webb Ellis Cup to captain Francois Pienaar, remains one of sport's most unifying and enduring images.
Ireland staged World Cup matches in 1991 and 1999 but had been seeking to host the tournament on its own in six years' time, proposing a cross-border pitch that was backed by British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Despite finishing third in the evaluation report, Ireland's bid team is unwilling to concede defeat.
Chairman Dick Spring told the Irish Rugby Football Union's website: "While It is disappointing not to have received the initial recommendation from Rugby World Cup Board Limited, there is nothing in the report which is insurmountable and this is certainly not the end of the road.
"We absolutely believe Ireland can secure the tournament for 2023. Our team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality.
"We still have confidence that the council members, who vote on November 15th, will place their trust in Ireland to deliver an outstanding 2023 Rugby World Cup."
"We're still in there and we're up for the fight."
Minister Shane Ross reacted to the news saying Ireland's bid is "far from over".
He took to Twitter to say:
"First round in rugby World Cup bid to South Africa!
"Far from over. Ireland squad already togging out for second half and win on November 15".
Minister Ross stated: “This is difficult setback but one that we can overcome. World Rugby made it clear that they were very impressed by the quality and detail of the Irish bid. The Report highlighted that Ireland has all the capabilities to host an outstanding Rugby World Cup in 2023. I am strongly encouraged by two things: firstly that World Rugby have made it clear that “any of the three candidates could host a successful Rugby World Cup”. I am also encouraged that we ran both South Africa and France very close in the scoring.”
Minister of State Brendan Griffin added: “This bid is still winnable. Ultimately, the decision rests with the Council Members of World Rugby. We can still do this. The IRFU will draw on all of their Irish spirit over the coming weeks to relay Ireland’s compelling proposition to the Council ahead of the vote on November 15th. South Africa may be the favourite now, but the final vote is two weeks away, a long time in sport and politics.”