Of course, there aren't supposed to be secret agreements and hidden agendas when it comes to voting for the 2023 Word Cup host on Thursday (NZT).

Not this time. The days of effectively buying votes with promises of this that and the other are supposedly gone.

World Rugby wanted to confine that system to history which is why the member nations agreed, in respect to deciding the 2023 host, to allowing an independent assessment of each bid and then making one a preferred option.

The politics had to be taken out of it, so in theory, the outcome on Thursday will be a unanimous victory for South Africa which has been named as the preferred bidder.


That theory is most likely bunkum, however as it is beyond all reasonable doubt that the three bidding nations - South Africa, Ireland and France - have been working feverishly in the last week or so to do what they can to secure votes through any means possible.

France and Ireland have both expressed their dismay that South Africa's has been ranked the strongest bid. The French in particular are bemused that they scored so poorly on various key criteria and have given the impression they will be doing everything in their power to persuade voters to go against the recommendation.

As to what methods of persuasion they will be trying, well, who knows. But there are always ways. When they won the hosting rights in 2007, the French had to 'persuade' Wales and Scotland by giving them each the right to host two tournament games.

It was ridiculous - a tournament that was hosted by France had games in Edinburgh and Cardiff. The All Blacks, for goodness sake, were knocked out of a World Cup hosted by France, in Wales, by France, after having played a pool game in Edinburgh.

It has never been confirmed but those in the know say that New Zealand were able to secure Ireland's two votes for the 2011 hosting rights by promising to take the All Blacks to play a game in Munster.

Sure enough, Ireland voted for New Zealand and three years later the All Blacks turned up in Limerick.

It's inconceivable that the French will be able or willing to 'sell' World Cup games for World Cup votes, but there are plenty of other ways they can use their financial muscle to win favour.

There are 37 votes to be cast in total and 18 of them are held by Tier Two nations.

Oceania, for instance, have two votes and given the perilous state of the finances of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, France could win favour if they promise to tour that region.

Or if they invest in a development programme in Romania for example, or send coaches to help out in South America from time to time.

Money talks, so while the major nations are most likely going to vote in line with the recommendation - New Zealand has confirmed it will - those who don't have much of it will be looking to leverage what they can.

It will, therefore, be a major surprise if the voting conforms to the system's expectations.
France are obviously aggrieved by the findings of the independent report and didn't miss the chance for some last minute cynical marketing by sending children out with the players at Stade de France on Saturday night with World Cup marketing slogans on their T-shirts.

Hosting a World Cup is big business. The tournament injects millions into the host economy and so because of that, there is no way France and Ireland are necessarily going to have been playing fair in the last week or so.

They will have been working every channel there is, offering up whatever they can to win votes.

South Africa are supposedly the favourites to be announced as hosts, but the process remains political and emotional and because of that, wildly unpredictable.