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Irish defiant after calls to defer bid to land World Cup


By Ruaidhri O'Connor

World Rugby board members have attempted to console the Ireland RWC 2023 bid team by telling them that they may have a better chance of hosting the event in 2027 should South Africa confirm their new status as host favourites in 2023 when the November 15 vote takes place.

However, the Irish have vowed to keep fighting for their 2023 hopes and have once again reiterated their determination not to step aside, with even Taoiseach Leo Varadkar taking a swipe at the cocky South Africans.

Privately, the IRFU have been ad­vised that they should eye up 2027 instead as by that stage it will have been 12 years since the World Cup would have been staged in Europe, which still remains the sport's largest economic market.

However, the USA and Argentina are likely to loom as potential hosts by then, too, and the Irish are wary of being fobbed off as they continue to lobby to win the November 15 vote.

Dick Spring, chairman of the Bid Oversight Board, claims that many board members throughout the world were surprised by Tues­day's evaluation report.

"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," he said in response to South African calls for Ireland to step aside.

"While it is not surprising to hear such innuendo, it is totally inappropriate."

Meanwhile, the task facing Joe Schmidt's side in the 2019 World Cup in Japan was pre­sented more clearly with the release of the opening fixtures.

Ireland will open their campaign against Scotland on September 22 in Yokohama at 8.45am UK time before facing the hosts six days later in Shizuoka at 8.15am UK time.

Unlike their doomed bid four years ago, the tougher games are front-loaded which may help them target a semi-final.

They may have to do so without Jamie Heaslip after it was confirmed that the Leinster No.8 underwent a second surgery on a complicated back issue. The 34-year-old veteran has not played since the Six Nations.

The games against the as-yet unqualified minnows from European qualification (probably Romania) and a play-off opponent (probably Samoa) will be in Kobe's Misaki Stadium on October 3 at 11.15am and the Hakatanomori Football Stadium, nine days later, on October 12.

Schmidt's main focus in those final two games will be how adeptly he manages to rotate his squad in anticipation of the knockout stages - more than likely against South Africa, rather than New Zealand - presuming Ireland top Pool A.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, who will visit Japan following the November international series, acknowledged the difficulty of their task against the favourites to top the pool.

"We'll face a real challenge in all of our games, starting with Ireland who are currently ranked fourth in the world," said Townsend. "Facing Ireland in the opening round really focuses the mind on just how big a challenge this tournament is going to be, on top of the prospect of facing the hosts, who had a brilliant World Cup in 2015."

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