Why the Rugby World Cup 2023 should be held in Ireland
Rugby : Jonathan Hatch makes his case for Ireland 2023
1995 hosts South Africa and 2007 hosts France are also in the race ahead of the decision on November 15th.
This is always a strange time in the world rugby cycle. Just after the Lions, two years out from the World Cup with most of the pools already decided, an awful lot of naval gazing goes on. What does the future hold? How can the game grow? Is the current schedule sustainable for players? Robert Kitson wrote a piece in The Guardian agonising over the financial future for the sport, as the majority of RFU’s reported losses.
It is also the time to decide where the next big adventure will lie, and in this writer’s opinion, for the good of the game, it has to be Ireland. This is not just because there is an argument that it is ‘their turn’, it is because Ireland represents everything that is good about the sport.
Ireland can now say with confidence that they are an international powerhouse. Perennial also-rans historically, their emergence in the professional era has been a real success story, picking up three Six Nations titles in the last nine years and beating the three major Southern Hemisphere giants in a single season last year. They have produced world-class talent in the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Johnny Sexton and have ardent support wherever they play.
Domestically, their four provincial sides have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success. Between 2006 and 2012, Irish teams, specifically Munster and Leinster, won the European Champions Cup, and in the Celtic League Ulster and Connacht have also been very successful. Home matches are usually sold out, providing a tremendous atmosphere.
Ireland also hosted the women’s World Cup this year very efficiently, showing they are capable of putting on a big tournament. They also have a plethora of GAA stadiums they can use to host games and bring international rugby to some of Ireland’s sporting outposts. This arrangement is mutually beneficial for the GAA, as the grounds would be refurbished and, where necessary, rebuilt on the government’s dime, so Ireland’s traditional sports would benefit from world-class stadia in the long run. I’m sure Cardiff and Edinburgh, two great rugby cities, would be happy to offer up Murrayfield and the Millennium Stadium as well.
This is also a unique opportunity to bring the game to the USA without risking it all by moving the whole tournament there. If Ireland’s historic win over the All Blacks in Chicago was anything to go by, east coast American fans are very intrigued by international rugby, and with huge numbers having family in Ireland it is a unique opportunity to encourage large swathes of sport loving Americans across the Atlantic.
But most importantly, Ireland sports fans are the best in the world. They just are. Whatever they’re watching, whether it be McGreggor in Vegas, the Republic of Ireland football team in France last year, their provinces in the GAA sports, Katy Taylor in the 2012 Olympics or the brilliant Paul and Gary O’Donovan in Rio 2016, the people of Ireland support their sports stars with more passion and devotion than any other country. They have never hosted a major international sporting event before, and you know that they would make fans from all over the world feel incredibly welcome . . . Even the English.
This is not to denigrate France and South Africa at all. Both are great rugby nations, but France only hosted the tournament 10 years ago, and their pitch of "Pick us, or rugby dies" , though a relatively fair assessment of the game, isn’t exactly inspiring. As for South Africa, they were responsible for one of the greatest RWC moments when Nelson Mandela donned the famous green jersey as a symbol of unified South Africa and cheered the Boks home to a jubilant World Cup win, but since the next world cup is in the Southern Hemisphere in 2019 perhaps it would be better if they put in a bid for 2027.
Ireland rugby, even through all of the troubles, has been a symbol of everything that is good about sport. An island united, if only for 80 minutes, to bring a much needed feeling of belonging to their fans. In the world of rugby, I cannot think of a better place for next adventure, where all of us to come together and watch the All Blacks inevitably win again. Whatever the future of the sport is, it needs to go through Ireland in 2023.