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Rugby World Cup 2019 – Let the Games Begin

(The 72,330 capacity International Stadium in Yokohama which will host the final
on the 2 nd of November)

With just three days to go to the Rugby World Cup in Japan excitement levels are
sending the barometer soaring. With so many sports to choose from in a
saturated market in Ireland, it is only in Spring once a year, and Autumn every
four years that rugby becomes the biggest show in town. To me, the World Cup is
like any great theatrical play. There are many plots and subplots in a narrative
that always throws up the odd revelation or two. You need not look any further
than the last edition in 2015 when this year’s hosts, Japan, shocked the world on
that super Saturday when they beat South Africa 34-32. This being arguably the
biggest upset in the history of the competition.

Similar to any good performance, there is of course our protagonist. From our
point of view, it is of course Ireland who are looking to banish the hoodoo of
never getting past the quarter-final stage of the competition. Ireland go into the
World Cup as the number one team in the World but not as the favourites
according to Head Coach Joe Schmidt, who departs after the tournament. Yes,
anytime Ireland are involved in a play like this it is usually in the form of a tragedy,
similar to those written by the great William Shakespeare, a man who I believe
would enjoy rugby given the emotional highs and lows that are experienced by
the audience watching around the world. Ireland’s fortunes have never been
great, we’ve had the national anthem fiasco in 1987 (it’s a long story), heartbreak
at home in 1991 against Campese and his world beating Australian side, dare we
mention ‘ la terrible année’ of 2007 when we didn’t even get out of our group? In
the most recent instalment in 2015, we were once again left with the feeling of
what might have been, when a depleted squad where outclassed by Argentina 43-
20. Ireland like so many times before had headed into the competition with high

hopes but were left to rue the absence of key players in that quarter-final defeat
with Joe Schmidt stating afterwards that his goal for the next four years was add
strength and depth to the squad for a second shot at redemption.

Act II. Although there is a sizeable time difference between here and Japan, the
tournament organisers have been relatively kind with the stage times for Ireland
with the earliest kick off being at 08:15 against the hosts Japan on September 28 th .

Who are the antagonists in Ireland’s latest shot at glory? One could argue that
there are four teams who are most likely to stand in Ireland’s way, those being
Wales, England, South Africa and New Zealand. All four teams have interesting
relationships with Ireland to say the least. Ireland and Wales has become one of
the biggest rivalries in rugby since Warren Gatland took charge in 2008 after
having an acrimonious split with Ireland in 2001. England are well….England and
New Zealand is the team who have traditionally been the standard bearers of
World rugby, and Ireland only managed to beat in 2016 for the first time after 111
years of trying. But perhaps the most interesting of them all is South Africa, who
contain the subplot of Rassie Erasmus, who spent one season coaching at
Munster during 2016/17. The conspiracy theory here is that he may have spent a
season at the province just to gain as much inside information as he can while
also bringing three Munster coaches with him to the Springbok job. This is
including the recent arrival of former Munster attack coach Felix Jones who spent
a brief period with Ireland during their tour of Japan in 2017. Joe Schmidt has
admitted that he is concerned by the appointment saying “he’s seen everything
that we deliver and he would have a great knowledge of even the language we
use in our camp, so it’s awkward for us.”

What about the supporting cast? Look out for the hakas of the Pacific Island
nations such as Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, while France as always will live up to the
most over used phrase in rugby “ You never know which French team will turn
up”. The hosts, Japan take on Russia in the first game on Friday and the natives
are sure to be the talk of the tournament, at least for the group stage. The
Japanese, known for being so humble, appear to be tearing up the script

somewhat with Kiwi-born Captain, Michael Leitch stating that “we want to win
the World Cup.” Suspiciously interesting.

Now that I have set the scene, I will let our friend Mr Shakespeare have the last
word. “All the World’s a stage, and all the men and women are players: they have
their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts
being seven ages.” Seven games to win the World Cup. It’s showtime!