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The battle for the 2023 Rugby World Cup enters the home stretch

Jolly green giants: Ireland squad members attend the launch of Ireland 2023 bid Rugby World

The decision as to who will host the 2023 World Cup will be made in November and the bidders are making a big push


The race to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup is on and there are just three runners fighting for the honour.

The 15th of November is D-Day for Ireland, South Africa and France as that is when they will learn the fate of their bids to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and World Rugby have started a tour of all three countries to have a look at their facilities. They have already been to South Africa and will take trips to the other two countries in the next couple of weeks.

Bids have to be formally submitted by 1 June then the three countries will present to the World Rugby Council in September and then it will depend on who gets the most votes in November.

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The magic number is 19 – there are 37 votes to be cast so 19 thumbs-ups gets you over the line. Top tier nations get three votes each, no me neither, and second tier nations get one so representatives from the three countries will be getting in the ear of the likes of the United States and Canada. The exact mathematics of the voting could change between now and November though.

But how do the three bids look at the moment?

Liam Neeson, who was one of the stars of the 1986 movie The Mission, has been drafted in to narrate Ireland’s promotional video and the Irish are on a mission to land this one. And they have got the tools to pull it off.

The Irish propose to use 12 grounds, most of which will need little tinkering with, the travel infrastructure is in place and the Irish have not had a home World Cup, although they did stage games in 1991 and 1999.

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The stadia range from 18,000 capacity Kingspan arena in Belfast to the magnificent Croke Park, in Dublin, which holds over 82,000 and is set to host the final. ‘Croker’ has been home to Test rugby before – it staged Ireland games between 2007 and 2010 whilst the Aviva Stadium was being built.

Croke Park is, of course, a GAA ground and used for traditional Irish sports such as hurling, and the IRFU are proposing to use another seven GAA venues and if you are not familiar with them they include the 45,700 capacity Páirc Uí Chaoimh, in Cork, and Casement Park in Belfast which holds 34,000. It would not have happened 20 years ago because of the tensions between the Gaelic games rulers and the IRFU – and an Irish World Cup would not happen without the GAA grounds. With them on board it looks a real possibility.

The bid has full support of the government and recently the Irish team said they had already been promised support from 40 per cent of the voters. They just need another push to land the big one but things change very quickly in the murky world of rugby politics.

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At least the Irish have got the unequivocal backing of their government. In South Africa, where the rulers refused to back a bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Game, the government have only just given it the green light to bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The Commonwealth Games decision looked bad news for the rugby bid particularly as the rugby authorities had been told that the lack of progress in transformation meant they would not be getting any government backing.

But that all changed this week when sports minister Fikile Mbalula said the transformation issue was in hand and the Boks could bid. One major plus is they staged the 1995 World Cup, a triumph, but that could also be a minus if voters decide to give someone who has not had the tournament before a go. And who knows when Mbalula will change his mind again?

But South Africa has the venues, they also hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the country is in love with rugby and it is a great place to visit for fans.

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France hosted the World Cup in 2007 and it was a brilliant success apart from a small hiccup of a transport strike on the day of the final, but we all got there in the end. The trains actually work most of the time so getting around between games is easy enough for travelling spectators, they have got plenty of decent grounds and the country is used to putting on big events.

The 16-year gap between 2007 and 2023 might count against them. Yes, England hosted games in 1999 then staged the 2015 World Cup but they were not the actual hosting country back in 1999 – whereas France were.

Bernard Laporte, who is now President of the French Federation, is right behind the bid and has already been dropping hints to the people with the votes claiming the French bid would knock the other two out of the park.

Then there was the row about the post-match function at the Aviva Stadium when France played Ireland in the Six Nations – the clear inference was that the Irish could not put on a World Cup. It is only going to get messier and there is always the bottom line to consider.

It is not just about stadia, access and infrastructure – the tournament is expected to raise a large dollop of cash as well, England’s organisers had to guarantee £80million last time, but from this distance, and with a romantic head on, Ireland should probably get the nod. Whether they will or not is another matter completely.

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