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Rugby Union

Surprise decision to award 2023 Rugby World Cup to France provokes anger from favourites South Africa

The successful French bid team celebrate around the William Webb Ellis trophy after they won the right to hold the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Picture by Alastair Grant, Associated Press 
Matt McGeehan, Press Association

FRANCE will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup after World Rugby's membership voted against the recommendation made by the governing body's independent evaluation committee, prompting criticism from preferred bidder South Africa.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont denied being humiliated, repeatedly defending the bidding process as open and transparent.

Irish bid ambassador Brian O'Driscoll disagreed, and lamented the fact the Ireland "had to be a guinea pig in a process that hasn’t worked".

"Two weeks to go South Africa were identified as the lead candidate and two or three percentage points ahead of France.

"That went to South Africa almost being blown of out of the water in the first round. France were only two votes away from achieving it in the first round so when you look at it that way, there definitely looks like there is some sort of embarrassment for World Rugby.  

"I’m sure there will be a few questions for them to answer in the coming weeks. There are undoubtedly holes in the evaluation report. That has become pretty clear.

"They [World Rugby] will have to lick their wounds in some capacity and realise this maybe isn’t the tact to take for future World Cups.

"If that’s the case, it’s a shame we have had to be a guinea pig in a process that hasn’t worked."

But South Africa Rugby described the two weeks since it was named preferred candidate as "entirely opaque" and hit out at rivals France and Ireland for not complying with a code of conduct.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said: "This is the first time ever World Rugby has made a recommendation and they voted against it.

"[But] a set of rules was broken during that process which we are upset about."

Alexander was referring to the fallout from the publication of the independent recommendation, which saw France and Ireland question aspects of the judgement and World Rugby respond to those allegations.

French bid chief Bernard Laporte felt the communication over a "misunderstanding" within the independent report "helped us - maybe".

South Africa felt "99 per cent" certain it would be hosting the tournament for a second time, after its successful staging in 1995 when the Springboks won in the first tournament in the post-Apartheid era.

A simple majority from the 39 votes was required and France claimed 24 in the second round of voting to be selected as hosts of the 10th edition ahead of South Africa after Ireland's elimination in round one.

Beaumont said: "A humiliation for me? I don't think so.

"We've made a recommendation. The recommendation wasn't accepted by council.

"Just because it went to France doesn't mean there's humiliation whatsoever."

SA chief executive Jurie Roux insisted South Africa would take the experience "on the chin" and it would not put them off making a future bid.

"If it depends on me, absolutely... we'll try again. At some stage we need to bring it back. Hopefully 2027," Roux added.

"You can't win it if you're not in it. It's like the lottery, although it feels like a lottery. My ticket had the wrong numbers."

Irish Rugby Football Union chief executive Philip Browne was magnanimous in a defeat which saw even neighbours Scotland and Wales vote against them.

Browne added: "If we had any difficulty, the difficulty was with the evaluation report, where we felt it was lacking in certain areas.

"I don't think we could've done anything more than we did."

The decision was seen as a blow for bids from smaller nations, with many believing commercial revenues were prioritised over the tournament spectacle.

"World Rugby and Rugby World Cup need to decide what sort of tournament they want," Browne added.

"Yes, there's the commercial imperative. But it shouldn't be everything.

"We can run a tournament perfectly well, a world class tournament and we showed we can produce significant revenues."

South Africa lost 30-3 to Ireland in Dublin last Saturday and go to Paris to face France this weekend.

Roux added: "I'm still trying to figure out which is the worst result. Last Saturday's or today.

"Maybe the only silver lining is the last time we played there in a World Cup we won it (in 2007). Maybe we'll win it again in 2023."

Laporte added: "We're very happy to host them and we'll host them well. I do understand their disappointment."

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