South Africa took a huge step towards hosting their second Rugby World Cup on Tuesday when the Rugby World Cup Board recommended unanimously they should welcome the 2023 edition.
South Africa - who hosted the 1995 tournament - will learn whether the World Rugby Council vote according to the recommendation on November 15 when they vote, with Ireland and France the other two options.
The winner requires a majority of the 39 votes on offer - the three candidates do not get to vote.
Bill Beaumont, Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman and head of the sport's governing body World Rugby, said South Africa had emerged as clearly ahead in all seven key criteria such as stadia and financial assurances.
"The comprehensive and independently scrutinised evaluation reaffirmed that we have three exceptional bids," said Beaumont in a statement.
"But it also identified South Africa as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria, which is supported by the Board in the recommendation."
South Africa - whose bid had looked weakened by Durban's withdrawing as hosts of the 2022 Commonwealth Games and abandoning recently plans for a Twenty20 tournament - understandably reacted with delight but noted that they still needed to have it rubber stamped by gaining a majority of the 39 votes on offer in November.
"This nomination is confirmation of that belief and reward for an outstanding bid in which no detail was too small to be addressed or any question not comprehensively answered," said South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux.
"We are 100 percent confident that the commitments we made in our document will be delivered.
"We will make all of world rugby proud of South Africa 2023."South Africa had offered the most money of the three candidates with a commitment from the South African government to exceed the minimum guarantee of £120million ($159m) required by World Rugby with an additional guarantee of £40m.
However, their Sports Minister Thulas Nxesi also urged caution ahead of the vote when he spoke to reporters following the publication of the recommendation.
"I am delighted with the way the process has gone so far. We must now be professional and wait 15 days for the final decision," he said.
"We do not consider it a mere formality that South Africa will be awarded the 2023 World Cup, but the whole rugby world will surely have taken note of the recommendations."
For the Irish the report will come as a blow as they had been seen in many quarters as the frontrunners to host the tournament for the first time.A lot of political capital had been invested in the bid - which had cross border support from all the Northern Irish political parties and even British Prime Minister Theresa May throwing her support behind it - with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar coming to London for the final presentations last month.
Dick Spring, Chairman of the bid and a former international himself, admitted it was "disappointing" but also sounded a defiant note.
"There is nothing in the report which is insurmountable and this is certainly not the end of the road," said Spring.
"Our team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality."
Bernard Laporte, the president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), believed it was now a two horse race.
The France bid received high marks despite an investigation surrounding Laporte for allegedly putting pressure on the federation's appeals board to reduce punishments imposed on Top 14 side Montpellier, whose owner Mohed Altrad is the biggest contributor to the 2023 bid.
"As of today, a final is taking shape in which France and South Africa will go head to head," said Laporte.
"A new match is beginning, and will play out until the sovereign vote on 15 November."