London — SA took a huge step towards hosting their second Rugby World Cup on Tuesday when the Rugby World Cup board recommended unanimously that the country should host the 2023 game.
SA, who hosted the 1995 tournament, will learn whether the World Rugby Council votes according to the recommendation on November 15, with Ireland and France the other two options. The winner requires a majority of the 39 votes on offer: the three candidates do not get to vote.
Bill Beaumont, Rugby World Cup chairman and head of the sport’s governing body, World Rugby, said SA had emerged as clearly ahead in all seven key criteria, such as stadiums and financial assurances.
"The comprehensive and independently scrutinised evaluation re-affirmed that we have three exceptional bids," said Beaumont in a statement. "But it also identified SA as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria, which is supported by the board in the recommendation."
SA — whose bid had looked weakened by Durban’s withdrawing as host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games and abandoning recent plans for a Twenty20 cricket tournament — understandably reacted with delight but noted they still needed to have it rubber-stamped by gaining a majority of the 39 votes on offer in November.
Rugby World Cup chairman and head of the sport’s governing body, World Rugby, said SA had emerged as clearly ahead in all seven key criteria, such as stadiums and financial assurances.
"This nomination is confirmation of [our] belief and reward for an outstanding bid in which no detail was too small to be addressed or any question not comprehensively answered," said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux. "We are 100% confident that the commitments we made in our document will be delivered. We will make all of World Rugby proud of SA 2023."
SA had offered the most money of the three candidates with a commitment from the government to exceed the minimum guarantee of £120m ($159b) required by World Rugby, with an additional guarantee of £40m. However, Sports Minister Thulas Nxesi also urged caution ahead of the vote when he spoke to reporters following the publication of the recommendation.
"I am delighted with the way the process has gone so far. We must now be professional and wait 15 days for the final decision," he said. "We do not consider it a mere formality that SA will be awarded the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but the whole rugby world will surely have taken note of the recommendations."
For the Irish, the report will come as a blow as they had been seen in many quarters as the front-runners to host the tournament for the first time. A lot of political capital had been invested in the bid — which had cross-border support from all the Northern Irish political parties and even British Prime Minister Theresa May throwing her support behind it — with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar coming to London for the final presentations last month.
Dick Spring, chairman of the bid and a former international himself, admitted it was "disappointing" but also sounded a defiant note. "There is nothing in the report which is insurmountable and this is certainly not the end of the road. Our team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality."
Bernard Laporte, the president of the French Rugby Federation, believed it was now a two-horse race. The France bid received high marks despite an investigation surrounding Laporte for allegedly putting pressure on the federation’s appeals board to reduce punishments imposed on top 14 side Montpellier, whose owner, Mohed Altrad, is the biggest contributor to the 2023 bid.
"As of today, a final is taking shape in which France and SA will go head to head," said Laporte. "A new match is beginning, and will play out until the sovereign vote on 15 November. In its assessment report, the Rugby World Cup placed #FRANCE2023 in top position on the main criterion: the financial offer and the guarantees."