France to host 2023 Rugby World Cup, stunning South Africa

ROB HARRIS (AP Sports Writer)

LONDON (AP) -- France will host the Rugby World Cup in 2023, a year before the Olympic Games in Paris, after surprisingly beating South Africa and Ireland in a vote on Wednesday.

The World Rugby Council disregarded the recommendation of an evaluation report to hand the tenth edition of its showpiece tournament to South Africa.

A secret vote by member nations instead saw France, which hosted the 2007 World Cup, beat South Africa 24-15 in a second round.

''Just because it went to France doesn't mean there's (any) humiliation whatsoever,'' said World Rugby president Bill Beaumont, who recommended a South African victory. ''If you look there wasn't a great deal between France and South Africa in the evaluation report. It was very close.''

It means France will host four prestigious sporting events within six years, with golf's Ryder Cup in Paris next year and soccer's Women's World Cup across France in 2019.

The French sports ministry said the decision to award it the Rugby World Cup so close to the Olympics and Paralympics in Paris in 2024 ''demonstrates the excellence of the French know-how in organizing major sporting events.''

The Rugby World Cup final is set to be played at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, just outside Paris. Eight other cities that will host matches: Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse.

French Rugby Union President Bernard Laporte joined his team for an impromptu singing of the national anthem, ''La Marseillaise,'' around a piano in London.

''There's a lot of joy and a lot of pride for French rugby,'' Laporte said. ''We held on. We weren't sure of winning but we were sure of our strengths and the quality of our dossier.''

But there were tears across South Africa, which staged the Rugby World Cup in 1995 but has failed with four successive bids to land the tournament again.

Fans gathered in the capital Pretoria expecting to celebrate victory in the vote. Instead, some of the crowd, dressed in the colors of the South African flag, wept while watching the announcement on screens.

''Why has it gone against the recommendation when most of the unions said they would vote with the recommendation?'' Joel Stransky, who kicked the dropped goal that won the 1995 final for South Africa against New Zealand, said on SuperSport television. ''What is the point of having an independent auditor if you're not even going to take heed of their recommendation?''

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AP Sports Writers Samuel Petrequin in Paris and Gerald Imray in Cape Town, South Africa contributed to this report.