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'It is very feasible' - Bid bigwig Hugo MacNeill bullish on Ireland's World Cup chances

The former Ireland fullback is one of the key men on Ireland’s bid team.

MacNeill has a big role to play in bringing the World Cup to Ireland.
MacNeill has a big role to play in bringing the World Cup to Ireland.
Image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

SO IRELAND HAS finally announced its intention to bid for the right to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. So… do we have any chance of winning the thing?

Former Ireland international fullback Hugo MacNeill is the chair of the cross-border working group established to help bring the tournament to this country and he sees a lot of positives that work in Ireland’s favour.

“I think it is very feasible,” MacNeill said.

“The more we looked at it the more we thought that Ireland can do it. We are in a fantastic location. The World Cups held in Europe have gotten more travelling visitors than the World Cups held elsewhere.”

The number of travelling supporters to the different World Cups does make for interesting reading – MacNeill says that 65,000 were in Australia, 133,000 in New Zealand, 350,000 in France and 460,000 supporters are expected to journey to England.

Ireland has a much smaller population than England and France but MacNeill reckons that the huge number of Irish people around the world could see a tournament held in Ireland reach similar heights to the other European efforts.

“We brought 350,000 people home through The Gathering,” MacNeill said.

“If you gave the Irish Diaspora seven years notice of a World Cup and told people to come back with one of their mates, there could be a huge audience.

“Then people say, ‘why Ireland?’. Ireland has been at the centre of the rugby world since 1874. It has been a great symbol of bringing people together on this island when a lot of things have been pushing them apart. In recent years, Irish supporters have driven the biggest club competition in the world.”

The issue of stadiums is always a tricky one when putting together a World Cup host bid. You don’t want to be left in a situation like South Africa in 2010 when a lot of stadiums were built that are now underused.

Luckily for the Irish bid, the availability of high-capacity GAA grounds eliminates most of the need for expanding the rugby stadiums, although given that the ground used for the semi-finals and final needs a minimum capacity of 60,000, Lansdowne Road would be out of the running for those games.

“We have the stadiums,” MacNeill said.

Hugo MacNeill Despite a stellar career, bringing the World Cup to Ireland might be MacNeill's greatest rugby achievement. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You have to make some adjustments in terms of putting in different seating but we don’t have to do major restructuring.

“Even to get to the first base [of 60,000 seater stadium for the final] New Zealand had to do major infrastructure to Eden Park. The economics stack up, the infrastructure and the island has the capabilities.”

Now that they have declared their interest, the next step is putting together a strong bid. Stadium selection and other logistics are now on the agenda.

“Phase two needs to be the design,” MacNeill said.

“Now that you’ve decided to go for it, how do you win it? The New Zealand model – which is the most comparative one to us – is that they put together a bid vehicle and an advisory board. That will be the next step.”

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Here’s all you need to know about Ireland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid

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