Peter Jackson gets over the gain line, behind the headline.
As Ireland take refuge from the usual World Cup misadventure, their demoralised squad could do worse than digest the words of a man who suffered more than they will ever know.
What Nelson Mandela said about diversity ought to strike a chord, however bruising, with those making the anti-climactic journey home:
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”
Even the toughest warriors in a sport of unarmed combat like rugby where the body can only endure a certain amount of pulverising, cannot drag themselves up indefinitely.
The old prize-fighting adage about the bigger they are the harder they fall, applies with almost masochistic consistency to Irish captains in the global arena.
Like his predecessor Paul O’Connell at the previous World Cup, Rory Best won’t be rising again for the simple rea- son that he has been doing so, of f and on, for the last 15 years.
Johnny Sexton will go on but not even he can expect to keep body and soul together long enough to rise again in four years’ time. A whole team of Irish Test Lions have run aground on the rocks of World Cups in four of the five major continents.
At 37, Best has gone above and far beyond the call of duty. Yet for all his powers of endurance and leadership, history will record him as having fallen into the sam trap as every other Irish captain at every other World Cup.
Mandela, of course, spent 27 years in the unimaginable darkness of Robben Island, condemned to solitary conf inement in the so-called
name of justice. While Ireland's exclusion is restricted to the comparative triviality of rugby’s top table, it has applied for 32 years and there is still no end in sight.
Once is understandable, twice unlucky, but seven straight quarter-final failures? For a country of world-beating ambitions that puts Irish rugby out on its own in the Premier League of glass-jawed contenders.
Even Floyd Patterson, probably the most fragile of post-war heavyweight champions, was only counted out four times.
The beatings have been off the scale: 18 in 1987 (Australia in Sydney), 24 in 1995 (France in Durban), 22 in 2003 (France in Melbourne), 12 in 2007 (Wales in Wellington), 23 in 2015 (Argentina in Cardiff) and now 30 (New Zealand in Tokyo).
Factor in the punishment inflicted by Argentina twice on French soil behind Irish elimination at the pool stage and the record can be extended to nine in nine World Cups. Gordon Hamilton’s gallop against the Wallabies at Lansdowne Road nearly 30 years ago assumes an ever greater golden hue now.
His long-distance try counted for nothing because Rob Saunders missed touch and Australia found a way through Michael Lynagh.
At Twickenham a fortnight later, they beat England in the final. When Ireland’s double over New Zealand in Dublin last year tempted some acclaimed their No. 1 status as proof that the balance of power had shifted, Steve Hansen made a prophetic point:
“We’ll see who’s No. 1 at the World Cup in Japan.”
When it matters most, as the All Blacks demonstrated with their ruthless devotion to the art of winning, nobody fails as consistently as Ireland. As Aristotle used to say:
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”
A tough ask given that the All Blacks put them all out.
There have been more red cards at this World Cup than the previous four put together but for sheer gratuitous stupidity none proved as costly as Sebastien Vahamaahina’s elbow to the chin of Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright.
It happened 10 minutes into the second half with France nine points clear and in complete control. They had found enough holes in one of the meanest defences in the game to score three first-half tries and leave the Grand Slam champions in danger of an early exit.
Just as Wales began to look bereft of inspiration, the French lock with five As to his name provided it in such a crass manner that the replay presented South African referee Jaco Peyper with an
pen-and-shut case of a red card.
It gave the strangely out-of-sorts European champions half an hour to beat 14 men which they just about managed.
In their apparently bottomless capacity for finding a way to lose, the French discovered that what goes around, comes around. When the teams last met at this level, in the semi-final at Eden Park eight years ago, a
Welsh red card, brandished before Sam Warburton, cost them a place in the final.
France won by a single point, just as they lost by one yesterday.
According to the official World Cup website, Hiroshima is a ‘must-visit’ place in Japan if only because of what happened at 8.15am on Monday, August 6, 1945 when America exploded the first atomic bomb 600m above the city, obliterating more than 140,000 people.
The city prides itself in being ‘perhaps the nicest and friendliest in all Japan.’ It has a J-League soccer stadium with an all-seater capacity ofalmost 37,000, putting it on a par with the ‘Big Eye’ at Oita.
While that city hosted two quarter-finals, Hiroshima got nothing — although the organisers did go out of their way to take the Webb Ellis trophy round the schools there one day in early July.
The party line — that Hiroshima ‘did not apply’ — raises the question as to whether they were encouraged to do so, if only to host one match. Of all the venues in Japan, none deserved to be treated as a special case more than the city at the forefront of the campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
A visit there leaves the impression that the tournament has passed Hiroshima by, that the opportunity of a lifetime has been missed. How ironic that the place the Americans almost wiped off the face of the earth should not appear on the World Cup map of its own country.
The prospect of the first all- Six Nations final in Yokohama on Sunday week is still alive and kicking.
The smart money of course, is on the World Cup ending as it started with the All Blacks against the Springboks but neither England nor Wales can be discounted, albeit for very different reasons.
England’s dismissal of Australia, 12 years after their last knockout win, against the same opponent in Marseille, made a lasting impression on Nick Farr- Jones the Wallabies’ World Cup-winning captain at Twickenham way back in 1991.
“To win a World Cup you have to have a great defence,’’ he said.
“England have a great defence.
“New Zealand will be concerned about them..
"England have shown they have a squad good enough to win the final and I won’t be surprised if they do just that.”
As for Wales, if they keep being as lucky as they were against France, the Springboks may need more than the power game which brought Japan’s captivating run to an all too predictable end.
Goalkickers guilty of breaking the 60-second rule over penalties are still being allowed to do so with impunity. The record for the slowest, set by Japan’s Yu Tamura at 96 seconds during the historic win over Scotland, has been eclipsed by Owen Farrell.
England’s captain took one second longer to nail the second of his quartet against Australia, a shot in front of the posts from not much more than 30 metres.
The ball did fall off the tee after Farrell’s usual painstaking preparation but at no stage did the referee, Nigel Owens, point to his watch. It seems kickers just won’t be rushed.
RWC Inquest podcast: How did a team so good at the ABCs become almost shambolic?