All three bids promised the world, but in the end it came down to money. France, despite arriving in London for the 2023 Rugby World Cup vote as underdogs having been ranked second in the independent report, emerged with the right to host the sport's biggest tournament.
In the space of two weeks France turned the report on its head and persuaded the council to vote against the board's recommendation on a platform of financial security.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont shut down any notion of this being a humiliation for the sport's governing body or for him, but privately that the council ignored the independent report and the subsequent recommendation of South Africa as hosts, means there will be a post-mortem into exactly what happened over the last 15 days.
Jurie Roux, the SARU CEO, labelled it an "opaque" spell in an otherwise transparent process. It was notable there were no questions in World Rugby's post-announcement media conference on France's qualities as hosts; instead they revolved around the fallout from the report, and why its recommendation was ignored.
Fundamentally, the brutal reality is that this was a financial decision. It is understood France's proposal guaranteed a net revenue return of £350 million for World Rugby to invest back into the game; Ireland and South Africa's in turn came in at around £270m. That England's winning bid for 2015 saw a return of £160m for rugby's global governing body shows how quickly the sport moves, and why romance is dead in the modern game.
Ireland's bid played on bringing together their diaspora and offered the chance to experience something new as a World Cup host. Thoughts of the unknown were not enough. As it transpired, they could not even rely on their fellow home nations to support for the bid. Losing Scotland and Wales' votes cost them.
Philip Browne, the IRFU CEO, said afterwards that Scotland "went for the money" and Wales voted with the independent review out of solidarity for Gareth Davies, the WRU's chairman and member of the World Rugby board that backed the report. That will have hurt Ireland, but so too will the fact that their bid was over following the first round of votes.
"To not even get close to the second round -- that is the big disappointment from my perspective now," was the great Brian O'Driscoll's take. The next Six Nations council meeting will be fascinating; one insider said "expect fireworks, and blood."
South Africa feel France made their gains since they were given World Rugby's backing on Oct. 31. Privately they suspect France managed to call on age-old relationships to court votes as they talked up the financial muscle behind their bid. Roux and Mark Alexander both used the word "opaque" regarding the events of the last 15 days and claimed "rules" had been broken.
"One of the rules is the way we communicate with each other," Alexander, SARU's president, said. "South African rugby did not attack any of the other bidders throughout the process. It is disappointing -- we have a set of rules and we have to stick to the rules."
South Africa's bid was on practicality, Ireland's on potential. France offered profitability.
This is a victory for Claude Atcher, France's bid leader who promised if they won the 2023 tournament, it would prevent the "death of rugby". So too is it a triumph for Bernard Laporte, who launched a huge public offensive in the wake of France being ranked second in the report.
Irish delegation slam lack of home nation support
Brian O'Driscoll and IRFU chief executive Philip Browne condemn the lack of support from some of the other home nations.
There is no doubt France will put on a magnificent World Cup, one that will tick all the boxes and capture imaginations but given they hosted it in 2007, their challenge will be to improve on past glories, rather than offer something new to the global game. They will also have to balance the relationship between Paris 2024 and their own event a year earlier to ensure they can work in harmony, without the Olympics overshadowing rugby.
Wednesday's announcement does have ramifications for the wider game. With all three World Cups from 2015 to 2023 now housed in the Northern Hemisphere, what message does that send to prospective hosts in 2027? On this, you need to offer financial security first, ready-made stadia second.
South Africa and Ireland reacted with immense dignity. There was no mud-slinging, just congratulations for France. "We're not going to cry foul," was Roux's message and that is admirable, but privately there will be frustration with the process.
The council voting against the report was a blow for World Rugby's board. At the end of a process built on transparency, permitting a secret ballot to anoint the 2023 hosts seemed counter-intuitive.
Wednesday's announcement was meant to be a celebration. France will be fantastic hosts, but their victory ensures question marks remain.