France will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup in a huge surprise after the Council of the sport’s governing body went against the recommendations of an extensive evaluation report in a secret ballot on Wednesday.
South Africa had been recommended by World Rugby’s Board but the Council members went for France, which also held the tournament in 2007.
Ireland, which has never hosted the World Cup on its own, was eliminated after the first round when it secured eight of the 39 available votes to the 13 of South Africa and 18 of France. In the second round, France secured 24 votes to South Africa’s 15.
The three bidding countries did not take part in the ballot. The remaining Six Nations and SANZAR countries had three votes each with the rest made up from the six regional associations and smaller rugby countries. A minimum of 20 votes were needed.
South Africa, which staged the tournament in 1995, winning it in their first appearance after missing the first two World Cups because of the apartheid sporting ban, had been favorite after coming out clearly on top of the evaluation report.
South Africa received an overall score of 78.97 percent to 75.88 for France and 72.25 for Ireland on a selection of weighted criteria but Council members were free to ignore the report if they wished.
Bernard Laporte, the head of the French union, had publicly complained about many aspects of the evaluation report, saying it was “nonsense and full of errors” and accusing World Rugby of incompetence.
Speaking in London after the announcement, the former national team coach said: “It was a heavy challenge for us. We were late but I’m proud that we’ve been chosen.
“Like Ireland and South Africa, we’ve had a bid that was solid. We’ll do our best and I promise it will be a fantastic World Cup, I’m convinced of that.”
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “We had three great bids. France have hosted the event before and I think it will be an exciting tournament.
“It’s been a long process and we feel that for the first time, we’ve put the results of our evaluation process out to the public and people have been able to comment on them and judge for themselves.”
Japan will host the next World Cup, in 2019.