Ireland camp insist World Cup dream can be saved

Ireland’s 2023 World Cup bid committee has come out punching in support of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s assertion that their challenge to host the tournament is still very much alive.

South Africa on Tuesday won the recommendation from World Rugby’s board that it should host the 2023 event, having outscored rival bids from Ireland and France in an exhaustive technical evaluation.

That endorsement, which puts the South Africans in pole position to win the deciding vote by World Rugby’s council on November 15, was followed by a statement from SA Rugby’s chief executive Jurie Roux that expressed the hope Ireland and France should step aside before the secret ballot 12 days from now.

“Hopefully Ireland and France, like us, will stick to the moral high ground,” Roux said, adding: “All you can do is ask for the process to take its normal course and hopefully not be part of anything untoward.”

That, in turn, provoked an intervention from the Taoiseach, speaking in Seattle, who said: “We won’t be pulling out. It’s now down to votes and we’ll be campaigning for votes between now and November 15.”

Varadkar reiterated the bid’s commitment, backed by governments in Northern Ireland and the Republic, to upgrade stadiums which in their current state were deemed risks in the technical evaluation while a victory for South Africa’s bid would result in a tournament played out in front of “half-empty stadiums”.

Back at home, Varadkar’s views were supported by Ireland 2023 Bid Oversight Board chairman Dick Spring who said of Roux’s comments: “While it is not surprising to hear such innuendo, it is totally inappropriate.

“There is in place a democratic process, whereby the council members of World Rugby, through their vote, are the ultimate arbitrators of who will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. To undermine this process in any way does a disservice to the entire structure.

“The recent evaluation report has stated categorically that ‘any of the three candidates could host a successful World Cup’. We continue to believe, as the report has confirmed and many others across the World Rugby firmament believe, that Ireland, as a new host, offers the best option for the tournament in 2023, truly a ‘Tournament Like No Other’.

“Ireland is now in dialogue with its many friends throughout world rugby and their initial response to us has been one of surprise at the evaluation report and its findings. As we have previously stated Ireland’s team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality.”

While the war of words for 2023 continued, Ireland yesterday learned the dates and venues for their 2019 World Cup pool campaign in Japan.

The tournament hosts, drawn in Pool A alongside Ireland, Scotland, and qualifiers from Europe and the winners of the final play-off, open the 2019 World Cup against Europe 1 in Tokyo on September 19.

Joe Schmidt’s side gets their Pool A schedule underway the following day against Six Nations rivals Scotland at the iconic International Stadium, Yokohama, which is set to host both semi-finals and the World Cup final on November 2 of that year.

In a front-loaded schedule, Ireland’s first two opponents are their main rivals for qualification out of the pool as hosts Japan are next up, six days later on September 28. That fixture will take both sides back to Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, the scene of the hosts’ 50-22 defeat to Schmidt’s young side last June.

Ireland’s shortest turnaround between games comes in game three, five days later as the Irish bandwagon continues its way from east to west with a stop at Kobe’s Misaki Park Stadium against Europe 1 on October 3 before rounding out the campaign at one of the tournament’s most westerly venues, the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, where the men in green will face the Repechage play-off winner on October 12.

Should Ireland top the pool they will face the runners-up of Pool B, potentially South Africa or the All Blacks at Tokyo Stadium eight days later.

If they finish second in Pool A, Ireland get one less day to prepare for the Pool B winners at Oita Stadium.

Tournament organisers believe they have created a fairer schedule from 2015, when Japan were one of the so-called underdogs burdened with short turnarounds between facing tier-one sides.

This more equitable schedule follows feedback from teams following the 2015 World Cup in England and ensures no tier-two team plays a tier-one team following a short rest period.

That said, there are four-day turnarounds for several teams, including defending champions New Zealand, second-ranked England, France, Wales, Italy, and Argentina, as well as Fiji, Tonga, USA, and Georgia.

USA and the yet to be determined play-off winners in Pool A have the most condensed schedules, their four games being played across 18 days while hosts Japan have the longest period, an extra six days to play their pool matches.



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