South Africans criticise and express disappointment over the outcome, especially since an evaluation report had favoured their country.
France will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup in a huge surprise after the council of the sport's governing body went against the recommendations of an extensive evaluation report in a secret ballot on Wednesday.
South Africa had been recommended by World Rugby's Board but the Council members went for France, which also held the tournament in 2007.
Ireland, which has never hosted the World Cup on its own, was eliminated after the first round when it secured eight of the 39 available votes to the 13 of South Africa and 18 of France. In the second round, France secured 24 votes to South Africa's 15.
The three bidding countries did not take part in the ballot. The remaining Six Nations and SANZAR countries had three votes each with the rest made up from the six regional associations and smaller rugby countries. A minimum of 20 votes were needed.
South Africa, which staged the tournament in 1995, winning it in their first appearance after missing the first two World Cups because of the apartheid sporting ban, had been favourite after coming out clearly on top of the evaluation report.
South Africa received an overall score of 78.97 percent to 75.88 for France and 72.25 for Ireland on a selection of weighted criteria but council members were free to ignore the report if they wished.
Bernard Laporte, the head of the French union, had publicly complained about many aspects of the evaluation report, saying it was "nonsense and full of errors" and accusing World Rugby of incompetence.
Speaking in London after the announcement, the former national team coach said, "It was a heavy challenge for us. We were late but I'm proud that we've been chosen."
"Like Ireland and South Africa, we've had a bid that was solid. We'll do our best and I promise it will be a fantastic World Cup, I'm convinced of that."
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: "We had three great bids. France have hosted the event before and I think it will be an exciting tournament."
"It's been a long process and we feel that for the first time, we've put the results of our evaluation process out to the public and people have been able to comment on them and judge for themselves."
South Africa disappointed
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said: "We are bitterly disappointed at this decision and would like to apologise to the people and government of South Africa for raising their hopes."
"In the feedback sessions I am sure we will be recommending to the World Rugby Council that the verdict of the evaluation committee become binding," said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby.
Former South African flyhalf Joel Stransky labelled World Rugby an “old boys club” and questioned the process to select the 2023 World Cup hosts.
“We are all bitterly disappointed and quite shocked,” he told South African TV channel SuperSport.
“One has to ask the question, why has the vote gone against the recommendation when most of the unions said they would vote with the recommendation? It’s bitterly disappointing and quite surprising."
“You can only imagine the lobbying that has gone on behind the scenes and the one thing that it does fix in my mind is that it is an old boys club still making decisions at World Rugby."
“Ultimately, your bid can be as good as you like, but you have to lobby to get those blokes on your side. Which means nothing has really changed, so what is the point of having an independent auditor if you are not going to take the recommendation?”
Japan will host the next World Cup, in 2019.