England should add finishing touch to great show
In 1976, the Queen's University Rugby side toured Japan, organised through the late Harry McKibbin and Shiggy Konno, who had fought against each other in Burma during the Second World War (literally 100 metres apart) but became friends as they served their respective Unions on the International Rugby Board.
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It was a ground-breaking tour in its time and an enjoyable experience for all involved. So, when the opportunity of revisiting Japan for the World Cup of 2019 presented itself, those who toured all those years ago and this time together with their wives, decided to visit Japan again.
While there was disappointment in how the results went for Ireland, they came back with stories of what a great World Cup the Japanese had organised and the enthusiasm and welcome the people gave to all those who travelled was fantastic.
Add to that the huge impact that the Japanese rugby team itself made on the tournament.
They displayed a style of rugby that was exciting and enjoyable to watch, and which challenged the styles of the other teams they played against, exposing some of their limitations that no doubt will be reflected upon.
In essence, they became everybody's favourite second team, winning the admiration of all rugby fans.
Before the tournament, many had a quiet concern that our Irish rugby team, who had given us so much enjoyment over the last few years, was just perhaps slightly beyond its best. That worry unfortunately became a reality as the competition progressed.
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Success at that level is always defined by fine margins, and so we should not in any way allow their performance to take away from the huge enjoyment they and Joe Schmidt have given us over the past few years.
This World Cup was probably 18 months too late for this team to deliver its maximum potential. The challenge now is how to learn from that experience and rebuild for the future, with the question being whether it is about preparing teams just to succeed on an annual basis or actually to specifically prepare for the World Cup. It probably has to be a combination of both.
Otherwise, for me, it has been an enjoyable World Cup, with some great matches, and it is always interesting to see the smaller nations produce exciting performances and true physical contests that make the game so enthralling.
In addition, there was the emergence of a French team exhibiting the flair and brilliance of their teams of old!
It has also been so important that rugby has finally faced up to striving to reduce the level of injuries, particularly concussion, by seriously challenging the area of the tackle. It is important that those lessons are passed down throughout the whole game, making it safer to play for everyone.
First, we will have an opportunity for two great teams to gain some consolation in finishing third in the match between New Zealand and Wales.
New Zealand have to be favourites as they will want to bounce back after being comprehensively beaten by England.
Then on to the final. From the outset, I felt that England, because of their performances over the last six months, and South Africa were probably the two favourites of the tournament.
Unfortunately, I did not write that down anywhere, so you will just have to take my word for it!
The final will be a major physical confrontation, with two teams who really display no weaknesses in any areas, but who also have some very exciting backs with tremendous pace. I do feel that this English team have the edge with a phenomenal back row and a more exciting edge in their backs, too.
This weekend, I will be supporting the northern hemisphere team against the southern one, much to the surprise and appreciation of my two English brothers-in-law and nephews and nieces and the annoyance of my South African friend.
However, I also hold a soft spot for South Africa and note how that team has evolved to reflect the nation that they have to aspire to be.
One that develops a sense of interdependence, as exemplified by their truly diverse rugby team of many difference characters, yet all finding common cause to work together. In that respect, both teams are such great example of the same.
So let us hope for two great matches as a climax to what has been a fantastic tournament, organised by tremendous hosts and has truly been, as the song says, a "World in Union"!
- Trevor Ringland is a former Ulster and Ireland winger.