IRFU chiefs not pre­pared to give up on their World Cup bid un­til the votes are cast

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - SPORTS - By Liam Heag­ney

‘THE IRFU IS OP­TI­MISTIC THE VOTE CAN STILL GO ITS WAY’

WAR of the World was how we teed up World Rugby’s Oc­to­ber 31 re­lease of an eval­u­a­tion re­port which would rec­om­mend one of three bids to host the 2023 World Cup.

The fall-out since, though, has been nu­clear. The en­dorse­ment of South Africa over France or Ire­land has not, it’s fair to say, been uni­ver­sally well re­ceived. Rather than pre­sent­ing World Rugby with a rec­om­men­da­tion that could be voted through with­out fuss in Lon­don on Wed­nes­day, it will be a bit­ter fight to the end.

It’s both re­gret­table and in­cred­i­ble that it has come to this, with third-placed IRFU and their sec­ond-placed French coun­ter­parts wash­ing dirty linen in pub­lic with their crit­i­cism of a re­port com­piled by com­pa­nies such as The Sports Con­sul­tancy, Dow Jones Sports In­tel­li­gence (DJSI), In­ter­na­tional Man­age­ment Group (IMG), Marsh In­sur­ance, Clif­ford Chance and Ernst and Young (EY).

Yet, while the bick­er­ing unions are putting their own rep­u­ta­tions on the line by cry­ing foul, it does high­light the depth of dis­sat­is­fac­tion about a two-stage process where part one – this tech­ni­cal eval­u­a­tion re­port – was an un­proven method in use for the first time.

World Rugby’s re­sponse has been pre­dictable − noth­ing to see here folks, now move along! The gov­ern­ing body claims it has dealt pri­vately with all clarifications sought by the wail­ing unions.

That may well be the case. How­ever, it can’t defend the fact that none of the three coun­tries had any idea pre­cisely what per­cent­age points would be al­lo­cated to each of the five cat­e­gories they were ex­am­ined on in ad­vance of the re­port’s pub­li­ca­tion.

For in­stance, no one knew venues and host cities would ac­count for 30 per cent of the ex­am­i­na­tion, com­pared to just five per cent al­lo­cated to tour­na­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion and sched­ule.

Not that the IRFU is im­mune from crit­i­cism. It looked am­a­teur­ish shortly af­ter its of­fi­cial bid launch last Novem­ber when it emerged it ne­glected to con­tact the Welsh Rugby Union to clar­ify whether a deal struck for the 1999 World Cup would still need to be hon­oured. Ire­land, France, Eng­land and Scot­land hosted matches in that tour­na­ment on the pro­viso Wales would be given games if they ever hosted fu­ture tour­na­ments − France 2007 and Eng­land 2015 had Wales as a part-host.

How­ever, the IRFU is flab­ber­gasted it was left in the dark by World Rugby over how im­por­tant its sta­dium plan – the use of some smaller GAA grounds that would re­quire more than a lick of paint to match the mod­ern, big­ger sta­dia in South Africa and France – would be in the over­all mark­ing of their €4mil­lion bid.

If it knew the weight­ing cri­te­ria it could have called it quits years ago in­stead of be­ing left red-faced.

‘We asked them the whole way along,’ in­sisted an IRFU source. ‘Had they been clear with us at the start and said sta­di­ums would be weighted in a cer­tain way we could have made a de­ci­sion then on whether we would have had any chance of get­ting the rec­om­men­da­tion.

‘Our bid was very pro­fes­sion­ally done and that is why there was such a sur­prise as to the way the weight­ings went so against us. A lot of money and a lot of time has gone into this from a gov­ern­ment and IRFU level and that is the rea­son we are go­ing to the fi­nal whis­tle be­cause the weight­ing was not eq­ui­tably done.

‘Brett Gosper (World Rugby CEO) sort of said this the other day on Sky when he was asked if he was ef­fec­tively say­ing that no small coun­try can go for it now.

‘He kind of said well it de­pends on who they are go­ing against.

‘That is not the an­swer. If the weight­ing is al­ways go­ing to be the same, that would ex­clude us from go­ing for 2027 even if we wanted to be­cause France will prob­a­bly go for it. They are go­ing to have to have a look at the re­view process again. It’s the first time they have done it. Is it per­fect? Cer­tainly not. They should ad­mit that them­selves.’

While it was no­tice­able on Fri­day that the cin­e­matic IRFU bid video was no longer play­ing on the loop in the lobby of its Lans­downe Road HQ, the union in­sists it is still trav­el­ling to Wed­nes­day’s coun­cil vote op­ti­mistic the se­cret bal­lot can some­how be swung against the odds. Ir­ish charm and all that.

‘We’re get­ting on to a lot of peo­ple, there is a lot of calls be­ing made and we’re hope­ful. We’re still very hope­ful,’ was its week­end mes­sage, adding it has no re­grets it came out swing­ing in pub­lic af­ter the World Rugby re­port’s find­ings.

It wasn’t about get­ting an­gry for the sake of it, more about be­ing heard.

‘They made their re­port pub­lic, so we had to make a de­ci­sion. We felt if we have an is­sue we should let peo­ple know about it,’ added the source.

It is now down to last-minute pol­i­tick­ing be­fore the 39 votes are cast in three days’ time.

‘Peo­ple are hold­ing their cards close to their chest and we don’t think it is over. A lot of the in­for­ma­tion that came out from us and from France has put that bit of doubt into peo­ple.

‘Even if we were the pre­ferred bid­der we’d still have (Ire­land’s World Rugby del­e­gates) Pat Whe­lan and John O’Driscoll on the phone mak­ing sure votes are se­cured. There are no guar­an­tees.’

War of the World in­deed.

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