LONDON (AP) — South Africa says World Rugby councillors have a duty to confirm it on Wednesday as the host of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
A secret ballot of 39 votes by the council in London will give the 2023 tournament to South Africa, France, or Ireland.
On Oct. 31, an evaluation report undertaken by World Rugby and third-party experts unanimously picked South Africa as the "optimal choice."
The reaction was predictable.
The Irish, led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and bid chairman Dick Spring, vowed "to compete to the final whistle." They were also emboldened by the report saying "any of the three candidates could host a successful Rugby World Cup."
French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte was less diplomatic. He labelled the report as "incompetence," and questioned the evaluators' independence. That earned a rebuke from World Rugby, which closed all feedback with the bid candidates last Friday.
World Rugby reiterated the recommendation was "clear, comprehensive and objective," and the evaluation process and criteria were agreed on by everyone.
Based on five weighted criteria, South Africa scored 78.97 percent, France 75.88, and Ireland 72.25.
South Africa topped three of the criteria, and France topped two. Ireland, the sentimental underdog for most, believed the criteria was skewed toward the candidates who previously hosted Rugby World Cups. South Africa hosted in 1995, and France in 2007.
South African Rugby CEO Jurie Roux has since warned the voting councillors about going against the recommendation.
"They have a fiduciary responsibility at that meeting to act accordingly," Roux said. "We hope that sanity will prevail because an independent process is there for a very specific reason - to keep it independent.
"It would now be very difficult for any federation to go against this independent outcome because it would laugh in the face of transparency and process."
It will also risk resentment from World Rugby's top brass, and cast doubt on the validity of a report they have been at pains to uphold.
The five-man Rugby World Cup Limited board which agreed unanimously with the recommendation is headed up by World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, vice-chairman Agustin Pichot, and chief executive Brett Gosper.
And Beaumont could yet play a role in the vote, if it's tied, as the tiebreaker.
There are 39 votes, with 20 being enough to win. New Zealand has already pledged its three votes to South Africa.
"Our board made a decision early on that if the process was seen to have worked well and been done fairly and professionally then it would be very hard not to vote the way of the recommendation," chief executive Steve Tew told the New Zealand Herald.
"While the scores are relatively close there was a clear margin. South Africa is the best candidate so we'll be guided by the recommendation and vote accordingly.
"As a councillor I would like to think the recommendation will be a very strong lead for everyone sitting around that table. We all agreed a process and criteria and as far as I can tell it's all been done very well, produced a result and we should all now vote for that, but I'll only be sitting there with New Zealand's votes."