By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins said on Wednesday that he was confident the country would have Australian support for their bid to host the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 2023.
Ireland will go up against bids from South Africa and France in the World Rugby board vote on Nov. 15 and Australia would normally be expected to back their fellow southern hemisphere power.
Higgins, however, said he had heard encouraging noises from current and former Australian Rugby Union (ARU) officials on his trip Down Under.
“I’m not just optimistic, I’m more than optimistic,” the poet and academic told reporters in Sydney.
“How should I put it? Imagine I would get lost for words, which would be very unusual. Let me say the conversations have been very positive and very favourable.”
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver, who announced that Ireland would play three tests in Australia next June, maintained the diplomatic tone without revealing which bid his board would be backing.
Hailing the “incredibly successful job” Ireland did hosting the women’s Rugby World Cup earlier this year, Pulver said the country’s bid did not suffer by comparison with the other two on financial terms.
“It is a superb quality bid, the reality is they are up against two pretty tough competitors in France and South Africa,” he said.
“The financial outcomes from a World Cup are very important as they allow World Rugby to fund the game for the rest of the four-year cycle. I can tell you the financial component of the Irish bid and the other two are all extremely robust.”
Ireland’s bid proposes using venues traditionally restricted to indigenous Gaelic sports and would also include pool matches in Northern Ireland.
Higgins said he thought hosting a major sporting event for the first time would have a huge impact on Ireland and be hugely successful if all of the country’s sports fans united behind it.
“I think it will bring a high level of participation,” he said.
“It encourages fitness, it encourages character, it encourages comradeship.
“I think those who are traditional followers of Gaelic games and those who are supporters of rugby, and all the sports, can combine to make it an exciting experience.
“I hope that the bid is successful and I am very happy to lend support to it.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)