Higgins ‘more than optimistic’ Aussies will back World Cup bid

Australian rugby chief says Irish submitted ‘superb, quality bid’ for 2023 tournament

Deputy Irish PM Frances Fitzgerald, Sabina Coyne, Irish President Michael Higgins and ARU Chief Bull Pulver at Australia Rugby Union HQ in Sydney. Photograph: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Deputy Irish PM Frances Fitzgerald, Sabina Coyne, Irish President Michael Higgins and ARU Chief Bull Pulver at Australia Rugby Union HQ in Sydney. Photograph: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

 

President Michael D Higgins said that he was “more than optimistic” that Australia would support Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup after meeting executives from the country’s rugby union.

Mr Higgins visited the headquarters of the Australian Rugby Union as part of his State visit to the country and pressed the case for Ireland’s bid in the face of stiff competition from France and South Africa.

Ireland needs at least 20 of the 39 votes on the board of World Rugby and Australia holds three votes. Rugby chiefs will make a final decision on the 2023 host country in London on November 15th.

“I have had conversations on the margins of different events and all I can say is that the atmosphere is very positive,” Mr Higgins told reporters after delivering a speech a lunch hosted by the ARU.

“It is for them to decide, of course, but I think really there is no aspect where people are looking for anything missing in the bid so therefore it becomes a choice of three bids.”

The President said that one of the great strengths of how the Irish bid had been “prosecuted” was that it had “concentrated on the strength of its own bid rather than being negative about anyone else’s bid.

“Having spoken with former very highly placed people within the ARU, they are not only favourable but are anxious to spread the message,” he said.

Bill Pulver, chief executive of the ARU, told reporters that Ireland’s proposal to host was “a superb, quality bid” but he declined to disclose how the Australians intended to vote ahead of next month’s ballot.

“The reality is that they are up against two pretty tough competitors in France and South Africa,” he said.

He praised Ireland’s hosting of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August saying that the organisers did “an outstanding job.”

France has sweetened its bid with a promise to prevent the “death of international rugby” and offered a guarantee of almost €570 million.

Mr Pulver said that financial considerations were very important, he said; they hold a 35 per cent weighting in the deciding on the host country as they funded the game over four years. “But I can tell you the financial component of the Irish bid and the other two were all extremely robust,” he said.

Coinciding with the President’s visit, the ARU announced that Australia would host Ireland in the first ever three-match series between the countries.

The matches will be played in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in June 2018.

The President told the media that hosting the World Cup would be “very, very valuable” but not just in commercial terms; it will project “a positive image of Ireland.” It would help bring together rugby and GAA supporters, and encourage participation by men and women coming after the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

“The bid is thorough and well-prepared and I am very happy to support it,” he said.

Mr Higgins toured the ARU’s high performance centre during his visit to the union’s headquarters at Moore Park in Sydney and spoke of the Government’s support for the hosting bid during his address to Irish and Australian guests.

“The Government has supported the bid in every way. It has underwritten it. We are quietly confident and quite unashamed about it,” he said.

Philip Cronin, chairman of the Lansdowne Club, a business network for the Irish in Australia, said that they were “quietly optimistic” about Ireland’s bid winning and that there was a “collective” twisting of the arm at the ARU by the Irish in Australia.

“The idea of Ireland holding the event resonates with Australia,” he said. “That connection that Ireland has with Australia. There is a lot of warmth and understanding and I think if we play that to its strength, we should be okay.”

Retired Australian rugby player Adam Freier, who made 25 appearances, said that he would “love to see Ireland get it” and that the timing was “probably right” for Ireland given that France hosted it in 2007 and that hosting had alternated between a European country and a southern hemisphere nation.

“You can assume that Ireland is right there in the box seat,” he said. “And you have Liam Neeson narrating your video.”

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