Ireland's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid refuses to bow out despite evaluation blow
The Irish bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup "will compete to the final whistle" despite being ranked behind bids from South Africa and France by World Rugby's board.
The promise, from the chairman of the Ireland 2023 bid oversight board Dick Spring, came shortly after Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar issued a similar pledge during a visit to the United States.
Speaking to reporters in Seattle on Wednesday, Varadkar responded to a call from South African Rugby boss Jurie Roux that Ireland should withdraw from the November 15 vote by saying the bid is "still alive" and Ireland "should stick to the moral high ground".
Varadkar said Ireland will "not be pulling out" and would continue to remind voters that its bid promises "full stadiums in the middle of rugby communities in our cities rather than in big soccer stadiums on the outskirts of cities that would be half empty".
In a statement released to Press Association Sport, Spring said the bid team was reiterating Varadkar's remarks and there was no chance it would step aside before World Rugby's council votes in London.
Spring said: "While it is not surprising to hear such innuendo (about withdrawing), 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."
In reality, however, South Africa's bid is now in a commanding position and Ireland has little hope of overturning its disappointing technical assessment.
The host candidate evaluation assessed a series of categories - such as hosting concept, tournament schedule and host cities - and each was weighted as a percentage and then combined, with South Africa receiving the highest mark of 78.97 per cent, with France on 75.88 per cent and Ireland 72.25 per cent.
South Africa last staged the World Cup in 1995, the first major sporting event it hosted following the end of apartheid and the final tournament under rugby union's amateur era.
Ireland staged World Cup matches in 1991 and 1999 but had been seeking to host the tournament on its own, proposing a cross-border pitch with Northern Ireland that was backed by British prime minister Theresa May.