Ireland's hopes of securing the 2023 Rugby World Cup and a mammoth £1.3bn economic boost have been given a huge blow in the announcement of the formal endorsement decision.
South Africa has secured the all-important endorsement of the independent sports consultancy, with France second and Ireland third.
That means the Rainbow Nation will be recommended as 2023 Rugby World Cup hosts by the Rugby World Cup board.
World Rugby's announcement is based on a series of detailed assessments by the consultancy. Although their advice is not binding ahead of the World Rugby Council's November 15 vote, it is unlikely the endorsement will be defeated.
Across five criteria, South Africa were unanymously voted top with a score of 78.97%, ahead of France on 75.88% and Ireland on 72.25%.
Ireland had been considered favourites to land the tournament for the first time ever but South Africa now look set to host the RWC, which they last held in 1995.
South Africa had put forward the highest bid guarantee of £141 million with France second on £132 million and Ireland well behind on £106 million.
World Rugby and Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “This is the first Rugby World Cup host selection to take place following a complete redesign of the bidding process to promote greater transparency and maximise World Rugby's hosting objectives.
“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.
“I would like to congratulate South Africa on a superb bid and all the bid teams for their dedication and professionalism throughout the process to date. Our colleagues on the World Rugby Council will now meet on 15 November in London to consider the Board’s recommendation and vote to decide the host of Rugby World Cup 2023.”
The IRFU have spent £3.5m on their bid and have called on the services of a variety of personalities from Bob Geldof and Liam Neeson to Brian O'Driscoll.
Ireland had been banking on the novelty factor and a reach to 70 million ex-pats based in the US and Canada, as well as tapping new sponsorship markets there.
They have engaged the GAA at Croke Park to help their bid as they do not have enough stadia of their own capable of hosting the tournament.
Ireland's bid has received strong government support, especially from An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, - unlike in France and South Africa.