Ireland will know in May 2017 whether their bid to host the 2023 World Cup is successful but they now face a genuine heavyweight rival after South Africa all but confirmed they will also join the race.
World Rugby yesterday released a definitive time-line for the selection process but, although the cross-border bid has gained many high-level admirers, the ongoing planning permission impasse involving Casement Park could make or break Irish hopes.
The IRFU's bid, which is being led by Hugo MacNeill, is backed by the GAA and the Irish Government and, although Belfast's Kingspan Stadium is a nominated venue, those involved have declared that Casement Park remains "absolutely crucial" to the success of the 2023 bid.
However, an ongoing legal spat has delayed the commencement of the redevelopment there and, even if there were to be an imminent resolution, it may not be built by the time the bid winners are announced.
That should still not damage the bid but the confirmed emergence of South Africa as contenders, after two successive near misses, will be a significant obstacle to overcome.
"We definitely expect to be bidding to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup - as we have for the past three tournaments," said Jurie Roux, CEO of the South African Rugby Union (SARU).
"The 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup were magnificent occasions for our nation and for the respective sports and the prospect of being able to repeat those unforgettable occasions is very exciting."
Head of Rugby World Cup, Adam Gilpin, has already this week praised the Irish bid, which will also face competition from Italy and Argentina with France and USA also believed to be pondering bids.
"Ireland have been very vocal about their desire to host the event," said Gilpin. "It's very much an Ireland and a Northern Ireland united bid which is fantastic and has some great qualities to it."