South Africa has been recommended as host for the 2023 Rugby World Cup ahead of Ireland and France by the tournament's organising board.
Ireland had been the bookmakers' favourites to win the right to stage the tournament for the first time, but Rugby World Cup Limited judged South Africa's bid to come closest to fulfilling its criteria.
The World Rugby Council will vote on the next host on 15 November at a London meeting. A simple majority of 39 votes is needed.
South Africa was given a 79 per cent score on how it closely it met the board's five key criteria of vision and hosting concept, organisation and scheduling, venues and host cities, tournament infrastructure as well as finance and commercial commitments.
France scored 75.9 per cent while Ireland trailed on 72.3 per cent.
"The comprehensive and independently scrutinised evaluation reaffirmed that we have three exceptional bids but it also identified South Africa as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria," said World Rugby and Rugby World Cup Limited chairman Bill Beaumont.
Ireland's bid chairman, Dick Spring, has vowed that Ireland can still convince enough members of the World Rugby Council to award them the tournament.
New Zealand also finished bottom of the board's criteria evaluation when bidding for the 2011 tournament that they were eventually chosen host.
"We absolutely believe Ireland can secure the tournament for 2023," said Spring.
"It is clear that the evaluation commission is impressed by the quality and detail of the bid put forward on behalf of Ireland.
"It is also clear from the report that Ireland has all the capabilities to host an outstanding Rugby World Cup in 2023.
"Our team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality."
South Africa last hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995, when a triumphant Springboks became a symbol for Nelson Mandela's new Rainbow Nation.
France staged the event in 2007 while Ireland has never hosted. The forthcoming 2019 tournament takes place in Japan for the first time.