South Africa has received the World Rugby board's recommendation to host the 2023 World Cup.
The announcement almost certainly ends Ireland's hopes of staging the tournament on its own for the first time.
An official decision will not be made until November 15 although South Africa is all but guaranteed to pip Ireland and France, with World Rugby's council unlikely to go against its board.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: "The comprehensive and independently scrutinised evaluation reaffirmed that we have three exceptional bids but it also identified South Africa as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria, which is supported by the board in the recommendation."
The Rugby World Cup Board unanimously recommended South Africa to host with the decision being made following a comprehensive evaluation report which was published today.
The evaluation consisted of five categories, all weighted differently to give the three bids a mark out on 100.
The main five criteria and their weighting were:
Vison and hosting concept (10%)
Tournament, organisation and schedule (5%)
Venues and host cities (30%)
Tournament infrastructure (20%)
Finance commercial and commitments (35%)
South Africa secured a weighting of 78.97%, France 75.88% while Ireland finished bottom of the trio with 72.25%.
The final step in selecting one of South Africa, Ireland or France for the honour won’t be taken until November 15 when the World Rugby Council casts its votes.
The vote will comprise a total of 39 votes, with a simple majority required to select the Rugby World Cup 2023 host.
The full report can be found here.
Meanwhile, the Ireland 2023 Bid Team has vowed to compete to the final minute to secure the Rugby World Cup for Ireland.
Dick Spring, the chairman of Ireland 2023 Bid Oversight Board, said the news that Ireland hadn't received the recommendation was disappointing, but not the end of the road.
"While it is disappointing not to have received the initial recommendation from Rugby World Cup Board Limited, there is nothing in the report which is insurmountable and this is certainly not the end of the road.
"We absolutely believe Ireland can secure the tournament for 2023."
Mr Spring added, "We will again, in the coming weeks, renew our vision to the Council Members – A commercially successful rugby tournament based on rugby's values of integrity and camaraderie, played in full stadia in the hearts of towns and cities."
"Ireland's proposition in this regard is compelling, and so our team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality.
"We still have confidence that the Council members, who vote on November 15th, will place their trust in Ireland to deliver an outstanding 2023 Rugby World Cup," said Mr Spring.