Rugby World Cup: Ireland still in the race or dead in the water?

How the votes are shared and what way countries and organisations are likely to vote

The shows goes on. Kevin Potts, the IRFU chief operating officer and the Ireland 2023 bid director, admitted to "initial disappointment". However, he added: "Rugby World Cup have confirmed that Ireland is well capable of hosting a Rugby World Cup, and we've an overall score of 72.25 per cent which, when you look at it, is a good score, albeit it is behind South Africa [78.97 per cent] primarily around stadia and experience." France scored 75.88 per cent.

“We’re still in the race,” added Potts. “We’re going to compete right up until the end, which we said we would, and, yes, we were surprised to see South Africa win the recommendation, but we analysed the scoring and the comments, and there’s a lot which Ireland can build on over the next couple of weeks.”

Put another way, though, if Ireland had won Tuesday’s recommendation it would be acutely disappointed not to win the rights to host the 2023 tournament itself, as South Africa would be now, all the more so after four previously unsuccessful bids in a row.

“If we’d had the recommendation we’d be very disappointed if we don’t win, and I’m sure South Africa would feel likewise. But there’s an onus on us to fight all the way.”


He picked the examples of the Rio Olympic Games, when the city had finished fifth in the evaluation process but secured the Games in 2016. To this can be added New Zealand’s successful 2011 Rugby World Cup despite an unfavourable technical review.

“There’s a lot that can be done in the next two weeks, and we will speak to all of the unions, and we will try and convince them that nothing has changed with Ireland’s vision.

“We are clearly up against two big experienced countries. We have put forward a world class bid. Rugby World Cup have confirmed that we can deliver a tournament, and we believe that there are many unions around the world who will look favourably on an Irish tournament.”

Backed by the Irish Government, which is believed to have invested €1.5 million into the bid, and the IRFU themselves, which contributed €500,000, they will face accusations that this will become a wasted investment.

However, Potts said: “We always knew that we were going up against two bidders, in South Africa and France, who had World Cup and European Championship all-seated soccer stadia, but that’s not what we offered. We offered rugby and GAA stadia in the hearts of our towns and cities.

“We brought in venue experts to put plans in place to upgrade them to what the Rugby World Cup required. The report actually states that, and provides confidence that Ireland can provide world-class venues. So we’ve done that. However in the scoring they’ve assigned a risk to that, which has effectively made the difference between South Africa and ourselves.”

The report does not examine each country’s capacity to fill those stadiums, and Potts added: “I guess in the next two weeks these issues will have to be brought out to bear by World Rugby Council members.”

A simple majority of 20 votes will be required on November 15th to win the rights to host the 2023 World Cup, and although Potts and the Irish Oversight Bid took comfort in that their commercial package scored comparatively well, he accepted that Ireland was now the outsider.

“We are now the underdogs, absolutely, but we have said all along that we will compete for this right until the end. We owe it to everybody to do so.”

Now facing an uphill battle, the destination of New Zealand's three votes would seem to constitute something of a litmus test for Ireland's cause. Before Tuesday's verdict all three bids had hopes of securing its endorsement. Part of the SANZAR bloc, it is aligned to the South African bid, while Bernard Laporte is quietly bullish after canvassing NZRU CEO Steve Tew and France host the All Blacks twice this month.

Yet Murray McCully, New Zealand’s designated minister for the 2011 Rugby World Cup before becoming the country’s foreign minister, has publicly stated his government’s support for the Irish bid, and that he would encourage the NZRU to do likewise.

Ireland famously voted for the New Zealand bid, the All Blacks opened the Aviva, and last year they danced together in Chicago.


England (3 votes)

Ireland would be hopeful that its neighbour would be well disposed to the Irish bid, but most likely the RFU delegates on the World Rugby Council will be swayed by Tuesday’s recommendation. Theresa May’s letter of support last month is helpful.

Wales (3 votes)

Again sure to be swayed by the recommendation, but the Welsh would be considered supportive of the Irish bid pending the recommendation.

Scotland (3 votes)

Before Tuesday’s recommendation following the evaluation process, Ireland would have been hopeful of Scotland’s support, although it broke the Celtic alliance when the European Rugby Cup (ERC) buckled under Anglo-French pressure, and the French are again quietly bullish.

Italy (3 votes)

Naturally more aligned to France, who have historically been of huge support, although the Italians are very much part of the Pro14, where the IRFU’s support has been critical in maintaining their two-fold presence.

New Zealand (3 votes)

Until Tuesday would have seem most disposed towards the Irish bid and is now a litmus test, but given its CEO Steve Tew has said it would defeat the purpose of voting against the RWC board’s recommendation, that must now be in serious doubt.

Australia (3 votes)

Are best disposed towards the RWC returning to the southern hemisphere. In ruling out an Australian bid for the 2023 tournament two years ago, an ARU spokesperson said: “We are aware that our SANZAR partners South Africa are looking to host their second World Cup and we support their bid..”

Argentina (3 votes)

Historically closest to France of the three bidding countries, and Laporte is again quietly bullish, although is part of the SANZAR bloc and Ireland has built a good relationship with it. Given Agustin Pichot’s influence and high profile in World Rugby, it would most likely go with the evaluation team’s recommendation.


Oceania (2 votes)

As well as Australia and New Zealand, the Oceania Federation includes Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, and others such as the Cook Islands, American Samoa and Papua New Guinea. Will most likely follow New Zealand’s lead.

South America (2 votes)

Sudamérica Rugby, known as Confederación Sudamericana de Rugby (CONSUR), has nine member countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Would most likely row in with Argentina and Pichot, which now points more to South Africa.

Rugby Americas North (2 votes)

It has 11 member countries in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, including the USA, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, the Caymen Islands and the Bahamas. Would most likely take its lead from USA Rugby and Rugby Canada, so might still vote for the Irish bid.

Africa (2 votes)

Rugby Africa, formerly known as the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR), is now even more likely to stand loyally behind the South African bid.

Europe (2 votes)

Rugby Europe has 48 members, of whom 39 are affiliated to World Rugby, and if it were to go against the recommendation it would be to France.

Asia (2 votes)

Rugby Asia contains 17 full World Rugby members, including Hong Kong, South Korea and others. Were it to go against the recommendation it would most likely vote for France.


Canada (1 vote)

Ireland toured there in 2013 and hosted the Canadians last November. Were it to buck the recommendation it would most likely do so for the Irish bid.

USA (1 vote)

Given Ireland’s links with USA rugby and reach into the Irish diaspora, if anyone was going to buck the recommendation in Ireland’s favour it is assuredly the US.

Japan (2 votes)

Would most likely act honourably, and thus support South Africa’s bid, although until Tuesday Ireland had the closest links following a two-test tour this year.

Georgia (1 vote)

Closest ties would be with France, although Ireland hosted Georgia in November 2014, and have regularly taken part in the Tbilisi Cup.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times