Rugby Blow Will Be Keenly Felt

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

The impact of such a bruising defeat for Ireland in the bid to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup will take some getting over for those closest to the team.

In reality, the knowledge that we had come up short was there for the past two weeks since the evaluation report was published.

There was shock at that, followed by anger and an attack on elements of the way in which that was conducted that may have had an impact on knocking South Africa’s hopes but clearly did little to persuade the voters of the merits of our case.

The real personal blow though will likely be felt in the paucity of votes that came through for Ireland in the first ballot.

Face Value

There are reasons behind each of the countries choosing to vote the way they did. We have to accept those at face value and move on.

Scotland were clear from the outset they were voting for the money. Wales are reported to have gone with the process in support of their well connected Gareth Davies who was closely associated with it.

Australia and New Zealand are tied to South Africa through television and Super Rugby deals so again, once the report came in their favour those votes were already cast.

The surprise, and it was genuine among both the French and the South African delegations came in the strength of the vote against that process and in favour of France.

South Africa have suggested that the transparency of the evaluation report gave way to an ‘opaque’ final two weeks where they declined to lobby but France and Ireland chose to carry on.

Secret Ballot

Because it was a secret ballot we will never know for sure how the votes were cast but the most likely scenario is that the strength of France’s 18 came mainly from the developing world.

Scotland and Italy will likely have delivered six votes but the rest came from Georgia, Romania, Japan, South America, Europe and Africa.

Money talks loudly in looking to build an infrastructure and France’s bid promised the most of that on paper. The fear is though, that it was in the lobbying away from the process that this became even more important.

South Africa reacted with grace after the defeat, accepting it as the will of the voters but in their hearts, they will be bitter. And for a country where the sport is in a degree of real turmoil, that may, in the long run, be a blow to the whole of the sport.

In relation to Ireland, the process has strengthened the already tight bond that exists with the English. In a historical context this was forged in 1972 when England travelled and Scotland and Wales did not for Five Nations matches that were held under the shadow of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Bad Blood

The bad blood thins over time but if Scotland and Wales had voted for Ireland it would most likely have put France on 15 votes, us on 14 and South Africa on 11. In that scenario, New Zealand and Australia would likely have switched to us and we would be celebrating. It really could have been that close.

If those countries with whom we have stood shoulder to shoulder in building the club game through first the Celtic League and then the Guinness PRO14 had stood up from those with whom their long-term future is most closely aligned, we would be celebrating.

The representatives of Scotland, Wales and Italy will no doubt have shaken hands with Philip Browne and Philip Orr, with Dick Spring, Brian O’Driscoll, Niamh Briggs, Kevin Potts, Padraig Power, Hugo MacNeill, Stephen Mcnamara, Padraig Slattery and all the others.   But all will know that it was their decisions that meant the Rugby World Cup was staying with the biggest boys.

That’s the ache in the gut that will be felt for a long time by the bid team from Ireland. Those who poured so much of themselves into the political horse-trading and glad-handing over the past six years will take time to recover.

All of the waits in airport departure lounges, the missed family moments, the air miles, the mornings waking up in a foreign hotel room and the hope that it would count towards something really important as a personal legacy. Were they all for nothing?

In the cold light of this morning, the answer is yes.

Yesterday

Philip Browne was wise in saying that yesterday was not a day to decide in the long term whether we could or should ever go again. The next potential bid, in reality, will not now be until 2031 given that Europe is unlikely to stage back to back tournaments.

By then Europe, Ireland and Britain may be very different politically and economically.  This may have been our time.

Now though, there is time for reflection. To study what could have been done better just so that we learn, but to move the energy and focus into other areas of the sport, from clubs and grassroots to the Women’s game and giving of our best on the field of play across the sport.

That will be the start of the recovery process and it has to happen because there is no choice.

World Rugby and its individual voting members decided that France was the winner this time around. One thing sport teaches us is that there will always be winners and losers but that there is always another game, another challenge to be met.

To go back to the words of philosopher Joseph Campbell at the top of this story, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

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