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Ireland's hopes of hosting Rugby World Cup to become clearer today

Not everyone is convinced by the arguments for hosting an event like the 2023 Rugby World Cup but the prospect of the tournament taking place in Ireland would certainly have all manner of unforeseen or under-appreciated consequences, writes Brendan O’Brien.

Among them is the effect such a carrot would be for Irish players who may be considering offers from cash-rich clubs in France and England in the years to come given the IRFU’s track record for ignoring those who leave for foreign shores.

The loss of Simon Zebo to France as of next summer has highlighted again that the Irish union can’t hope to keep everyone sheltered under their own umbrella but his omission from Joe Schmidt’s latest squad made clear the price that has to be paid.

That’s a bargaining chip that only increases in value if the World Cup comes here.

“I would say for some players who were considering going abroad, if Ireland do get the World Cup, (it) probably would change their minds,” said Leinster out-half Ross Byrne who will only be 26 come 2023. “Ultimately, everyone wants to play in a World Cup.

“Then, if it is in your own country, that is another thing. Then you probably have an advantage, or a better chance, of winning it which is probably the ultimate thing you can do in rugby. I’d say it probably definitely would sway people.”

The lie of that land will be much more obvious today.

The final step in selecting one of Ireland, France or South Africa for the honour won’t be taken until November 15 when the World Rugby Council casts its votes but we find out today which of the three is to be the preferred, recommended bidder.

The evaluation process has been painstaking with internal and external “functional area experts” working diligently on pre-specified weighted criteria, each of them carrying point scores which will be added up to determine the leading candidate.

Each of the bids has been assessed on a number of economic, commercial and financial factors and the opinion of the independent technical review group responsible for all that will be expected to carry significant weight in two week’s time.

Transparency has been a buzzword throughout the 16-month process and yet the final decision will be conducted by secret ballot in a fortnight. With 39 votes available, there is still a long way to go before this all plays out.

Ireland are front-runners in the betting with South Africa close behind and France a distant third but there are reasons to be apprehensive for supporters of the bid with questions over the Irish case when examined under some of World Rugby’s stated criteria.

Ireland lag way behind both rivals in terms of infrastructure and experience in hosting events of this scale and both France and South Africa have guaranteed World Rugby an extra €51m and £40m respectively on top of the minimum tournament fee.

The Irish bid team has attempted to mitigate that last fact at least by promising to leverage the large Irish-American network in Canada and the USA to spearhead sustained growth for the game in the large and attractive North American market.

And IRFU CEO Philip Browne and his bid team gave a comprehensive account of themselves in London late last month when all three official bid documents were presented to World Rugby and interviews held with the media thereafter.

Though Brexit is a concern, Northern Ireland’s main political parties have confirmed their support for the bid while the £120m staging fee is government guaranteed and ready to be handed over within hours of Ireland getting the nod.

Talk of a €1.5bn boost to the island’s economy and of 445,000 international visitors for the tournament are figures that are considerably more nuanced while a fund of €65m will have to be utilised to upgrade those grounds used should the news in two weeks be positive.

All three bids have their issues and their unique selling points. Ireland offers the chance to break new ground, France possibly the safest bet in that it is the biggest commercial market while South Africa offers low overheads as typified by their reminder that a Big Mac in Joburg will cost you half that in Dublin or Paris.

Today’s news will be particularly hard for two of the trio to stomach.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.