Rugby World Cup 2015: Let's hope rugby is real winner
After all the waiting and the anticipation of another great sporting event, the Rugby World Cup is starting this evening with the opening game between hosts England and Fiji at Twickenham, and the atmosphere will be highly-charged with a massive global audience looking on.
Despite the pressure of high expectations, the English team should start with a win against the southern hemisphere outfit.
It is highly unlikely the plucky Fijians will spring a surprise, but that is the beauty of live sport, where sometimes the unexpected does happen.
The much-fancied Ireland team faces the same hurdle tomorrow against unfancied Canada, and despite the odds stacked in Ireland’s favour, the fans will breathe a sigh of relief if and when their team secures the anticipated victory.
There was a time when rugby union was a game for amateurs and the Ireland team was too often regarded as the “gallant losers”, the best they could hope for being the odd victory or two.
All this has changed beyond recognition now.
Rugby union is a highly professional sport with first-class coaches, and in recent years Ireland have shown their prowess, not least in winning back-to-back Six Nation Championships.
Ireland are sometimes happier with the tag of underdogs, and they need to get used to the expectation of victory, especially with coach Joe Schmidt, who is among the top two or three in the world.
It will not be a totally easy group, with the unpredictable French as one of the stumbling blocks.
But anything less than a semi-final place for Ireland will be regarded as a failure.
Rugby has grown immensely at provincial level as well, and people here will be cheering on the Ulster players in the Irish team.
Now the stage is set for great events on the rugby field as the world’s best teams and players compete for the highest honours that the game can offer.
Each nation will no doubt be cheering most loudly for its own team, but when the victors emerge at the end it is hoped that the greatest winner of all will be the game itself.
We hope Ireland do well, but in true sporting tradition let’s also hope that, in the end, the best team wins — even if it is England!