The Rugby World Cup is a relatively new competition, with the first tournament taking place in 1987. The inaugural event co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand saw 16 Nations competing to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. The New Zealand All Blacks won the first World Cup beating France 29-9 in the final at Eden Park in front of an excited home crowd.

Since 1987 the RWC has been hosted by; England, South Africa, Wales, Australia, France and New Zealand. The right to host the 2019 World Cup was awarded to Japan; making it the first to be staged outside of a Tier 1 Rugby nation.

BIG IN JAPAN

When Japan was announced as the 2019 RWC host nation, I was surprised but also intrigued. Having watched a game at the 2007 RWC in France, I was keen to experience the excitement of another World Cup. The trip would allow me to write about matches and the RWC first hand. Giving our sports-based websites much needed unique content. There was just one problem; travelling from England to France is relatively easy and cheap. Getting to Japan would be a different proposition altogether!

LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE

I researched flights, hotels, transport and match tickets for three group games at various locations around Japan. Initially, I wanted to arrange this myself. However, it became apparent that this approach would be a logistical nightmare. Looking online and found a tour company based in Dublin who could arrange everything, including match tickets. Club Travel is an official travel partner for the 2019 World Cup. They offered a package covering a 17-day tour which included three Ireland group matches along with numerous sightseeing tours between the games.

I compared the Club Travel package available to Irish fans with similar trips to watch England or Wales play at the RWC. The Irish package was cheaper, included more games and sightseeing tours. What finally sealed the deal was my partners’ nationality, being Irish she insisted on following Ireland! I never really had a choice.

TOKYO, STATUE OF LIBERTY & GIANT ROBOTS

Our trip started in Manchester for a quick flight to Dublin. Once in Dublin, we boarded a plane to Helsinki and then transferred for a ten-hour flight to Tokyo. After a surprisingly comfortable flight with Finn Air, we arrived in Tokyo mid-morning. It was a 1hr 30min transfer from Narita Airport to our Hotel in the Odaiba district. The Grand Nikko Hotel (Odaiba) was a fantastic place to stay. The area around the hotel is less busy than downtown Tokyo but with plenty to do and excellent transport links.

Our room looked out over the impressive Rainbow Bridge and Statue Of Liberty; I didn’t know Tokyo had one too! We were a short walk away from the DiverCity complex, which has a full-size Gundam Robot. Odaiba is also home to the ‘teamLab Borderless’ art project and Toyota MegaWeb, this is essentially a theme park for all things Toyota. We visited all these attractions, and I can recommend them all — especially ‘teamLab Borderless’, which is incredible (details here).

FIRST GAME – IRELAND vs SCOTLAND

For those who follow Six Nations Rugby, Ireland versus Scotland is usually a cracking game. Typically played in February or March, my overriding memory of watching previous encounters between these two teams is being frozen stiff in Murrayfield. So it was a pleasant change to watch this match in 28-degree heat, although it still rained! The general feeling was this fixture would be the toughest game in the group stage for Ireland. If the Irish could kick-off their World Cup with a win against Scotland, they would be in a great shape to top group A (pool A).

The match was played in Yokohama Stadium, the venue for the football World Cup Final in 2002. The stadium is modern with excellent facilities. The organisation around the fixture was top-notch, our seats were behind the posts and gave us a fantastic view.

The game turned out to be less competitive than anticipated. Ireland crushed Scotland 27-3, much to the delighted the travelling Irish fans who outnumbered the Scots ten to one. After the coach journey back to our hotel, the boys and girls in green were celebrating a perfect start to the World Cup.

NINJA CASTLES & MOUNT FUJI

One of the benefits of the package booked with Club Travel was the numerous sightseeing tours built around Ireland’s match schedule.

Our first trip was to Mount Fuji. The iconic snow-capped wonder which is a ‘must-see’ for anyone touring Japan. Unfortunately, Fuji was shrouded in a cloud when we arrived! So I can’t vouch for its beauty, as I only saw the base! Nevertheless, the area around the mountain is spectacular.

The following day we headed towards Hamanako stopping at Matsumoto Castle along the way. Japan’s premier historic castle, it is also known as the “Crow Castle” due to its black exterior. This was one of the most picturesque stops during our whole tour. The castle is set in a moat with a vibrant red bridge which stretches across the water. Once inside the castle, you can learn about its history and even get a selfie with a Ninja!

SECOND GAME – IRELAND vs JAPAN

After spending two nights in the underwhelming Hotel Hamanako, it was time for the biggest match of the tour – Ireland Vs Japan! I’d been looking forward to this fixture since the pools had been announced. While Rugby isn’t the biggest sport in Japan, it has grown in popularity since Japan’s epic World Cup campaign in 2015.

It’s worth remembering how far Japanese Rugby has come. In the 1995 World Cup, Japan suffered a 145-17 loss to New Zealand, the second-worst in the history of the tournament. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Japan recorded a miraculous victory over South Africa, beating the two time World Champions 34-32. The game is widely considered one of the biggest sporting upsets in history.

As we took our seats in the Shizuoka Stadium, the atmosphere inside the ground was rocking. As usual, Ireland had a large contingent of travelling fans. Nevertheless, it was clear that the home nation was revved up for the game. As the Japanese Nation Anthem rang out from all corners of the ground, I had a sense this match might not go to script for Ireland.

From the open minute, Japan played at a ferocious pace. Ireland weathered the early storm. Both Ringrose and Kearney scored in the first half, giving the boys in green a slender lead at the break. After the break, I expect the Japanese attacks to slow; surely, fatigue would start to kick in soon? If anything their attacks grew stronger, and Japanese fans could sense a historic victory was on the cards. Ireland had no reply to their intensity, and when Kenki Fukuoka went over at the corner to make it Japan 16, Ireland 12 it felt like the game had slipped away from Ireland. Tamura added a penalty from 35 metres to give Japan another 3 points. As the clock ticked down, sportswriters around the world were already filling their match reports. This game would go down in history as the ‘Shocker In Shizuoka‘.

Had Ireland won this fixture, they would have played South Africa in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, they would now face New Zealand, the back-to-back winners of the last two World Cups!

Away from Rugby, our tour moved to the beautiful city of Kyoto. The historical and cultural capital of Japan. Two full free days allowed us to explore at our pace and hit the local shops and tourist attractions, including the incredible Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, with its 1,000 torii gates. The shrine was made world-famous by the 2005 film ‘Memoirs of a Geisha‘. I was lucky enough to get good photos during a rather stormy visit to the gates.

THIRD GAME – IRELAND vs RUSSIA

The final leg of our trip was a short visit to the port city of Kobe for Ireland’s third pool game against Russia. We spent a night in the fabulous Kobe Meriken Hotel on the waterfront.

The following day we headed to the Kobe Misaki Stadium to watch Ireland play Russia. The stadium had a familiar feel; it was more like a traditional European football ground. On the pitch, Ireland did enough to cruise past Russia. Securing a bonus point which almost assured Ireland would progress to a Quarter-final against South Africa or New Zealand.

We’d spent two weeks travelling in Japan and could only muster enough energy for a whistlestop tour of Osaka, our final destination. We ticked off the main tourist areas, grabbed a photo underneath Glico Running Man and packed our bags. We’d enjoyed a beautiful country and tournament, but now it was time to say Sayounara.

Arigatou Gozaimasu Nippon!

The heatwave is over and we are well and truly into the swing of Autumn and now that all of the kids are back to school for another year, it’s time to turn our attention to nice things we can do if we ever get the time! Most of us have a long list of perfect ways to relax and as the nights draw in what will you do to unwind in the evenings?

Grab A Book
Whether you prefer a good old paperback or you’ve preloaded your kindle with everything Amazon has to offer, one of the biggest past times this Autumn will be taking some time out to enjoy a spot of reading. For those of you who love a bit of romantic escapism then you won’t find better than Joan Reeves, the New York Times and a USA Today bestselling author, who has a huge range of books to choose from.

For those who like a solid thriller then check out Irish author Patricia Gibney and her series of books featuring Detective Lottie Parker. There are four available with a fifth in the pipeline and each will have you glued to the page – and downloading the next – as they all have one story that arcs over the collection.

And if you missed them the first time around, The Girl On The Train, Gone Girl, The Fault In Our Stars, The Nightingale and The Fifty Shades Trilogy are the five highest rated books of all time on Amazon.

Mobile Gaming
Another favourite for those looking to relax, mobile gaming has come a very long way since it first began. Virtually every online casino and bingo site has a mobile ready version of their website and with so much competition, they are all trying to out-do each other by packing in the promotions, offers and giveaways.

If bingo is your thing then check out Jackpot Joy who have really ramped things up this Summer with plenty of opportunities to play for free, as well as win free games and cash prizes every day. If you prefer slots online then Casumo has over 300 games to choose from so you will definitely be spoilt for choice!

And if you don’t fancy joining an online casino and only want to play for a bit of fun then check out the HQ app – it’s taking the world by storm and is completely free to play. Twice a day – at 3pm and 9pm – for a real cash prize, you play live on your mobile and try to answer 12 multiple choice questions in a row. Get one wrong and you’re out. Stay the course and you win or share the jackpot. Couldn’t be easier! And if you happen to be Swedish, then check out Svenska Slots for all the latest and best slot reviews and promotions!

Stream Great Movies
If you’re anything like me than you’ve always got an iPad or tablet loaded with movies for the kids. I also throw a HDMI cable in the suitcase so they can watch on tv in the evening no matter where we are! But once the sun has set, and it’s time to chill out what will you watch? Movies are being churned out by the bucketload and that’s great for variety and choice but can you beat a true classic?? For the low-down on the absolute best of movies from a bygone era check out Cinematic Catharsis for their reviews on the films that we definitely should be re-visiting.

If you plan on streaming from Netflix or Amazon and a more modern film is your thing and you just don’t know what to choose, then NextFlicks.tv has all the latest and greatest reviewed and rated so you won’t be wasting your time taking a chance on something you’ve never heard of.

Head To The Cinema
Yes, people still go to the cinema! Streaming is fab but it doesn’t come with pick ‘n’ mix and popcorn so off to the flicks it is. For everything that is coming your way on the big screen, head to Hollywood-Spy for all the latest goss on the movies due out, who’s playing who and the trailers to go with them.

Alternatively check your local cinema for listings, bag yourself a some bargain ticket prices and settle in for an evening of entertainment and relaxation.

So there you have it folks, read, watch movies, play games or head to the pictures – there’s plenty to do when the sun goes down this Autumn so don’t miss out.

I purchased a GoPro Hero4 before a recent trip to Iceland, I knew the weather would be extreme and I didn’t fancy changing lenses in minus -11 or lugging my Nikon D3x around for hours on end. I planned to use the GoPro as a durable stills camera which could also take some scenic video when needed.

A GoPro is normally associated with extreme sports, you’ll often see them strapped to a surfboard or a skydivers head. I had no plans to throw myself out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft but the rugged reliability and tiny size of the camera appealed to me.

I’d purchased the GoPro less than 24 hours before departing for Iceland, leaving little time to familiarise myself with the camera settings. However, once I figured out how to pair the GoPro with my iphone I was able to adjust the camera settings for still photography. It’s much easier to adjust these using the app than attempting to do it via the tiny touchscreen on the back of the camera, especially if you have sausage fingers like me.

The app also allows you to remotely control your GoPro, so you can position the camera almost anywhere and then use your phone as a live view finder! A neat feature which should give some interesting POVs. The app can also transfer photos wirelessly from the GoPro onto your smartphone camera roll, from there you can upload them to Facebook or Twitter directly.

So how did the GoPro Hero4 perform as a stills camera? Well, I found the picture quality remarkable given the size of the camera. Photos taken in daylight were crisp and sharp, night-time shots did contain a fair amount of noise but that’s not uncommon in any camera. Along with the legendary image stabilised video capture the other main advantage of a GoPro is size – it really is tiny. The waterproof casing bundled with the camera means you can take it anywhere, the casing will also protect against damage in hostile enviroments.

Above I’ve added a couple of photos taken using my GoPro, If you want to read more about using the Hero4 as a stills camera I can recommend this detailed post. Hopefully I will get a chance to experiment more with the camera over the summer holidays, I’m already pricing up a drone!

Emilíana Torrini is the Icelandic singer, best known for her 2009 single Jungle Drum, and for performing “Gollum’s Song”, during the ending credits of Peter Jackson’s film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I’d never heard of her before seeing the video for ‘Inspired By Iceland’ (see below) it’s a great promo video for the Icelandic tourist board.

As tourist videos go it’s really good, made me want to visit anyway. More importantly I really loved the tune “Jungle Drums” which is featured in the video, the song is available to download from iTunes, I downloaded it and Emiliana Torrini’s latest album, it’s a cracking listen so check it out! The full Icelandic tourist video is embedded below, it has some fantastic scenery and well worth a watch.

If you like this tune then the official Emiliana Torrini website is giving away a free download if you join her mailing list.

The new LYTRO camera may well change the way we take photos forever. First let me say that I’m a big DSLR geek, my camera bag is full of Nikons, lens, compact cameras and even the funky retro Fuji X100. I love all types of camera gear and gadgets, but the prospect of LYTRO has me more excited than the day my Nikon D3 arrived in the post.

The LYTRO isn’t just a new camera, it’s a completely different way of capturing images. The project started at Stanford University has been 15 years in development and produced a camera so revolutionary, it even had the late Steve Jobs admiring the LYTRO. Apparently Jobs phone the LYTRO team to ask if Apple and LYTRO could work together (new iphone camera – maybe?).

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, and here comes the science bit… Unlike a conventional camera that captures a single plane of light, the Lytro camera captures the entire light field, which is all the light traveling in every direction in every point in space. Giving the ability to capture living pictures with the press of a single button. By instantly capturing complete light field data, the Lytro gives you capabilities you’ve never had in a regular camera.

Since you’ll capture the color, intensity, and direction of all the light, you can experience the first major light field capability – focusing after the fact. Focus and re-focus, anywhere in the picture. You can refocus your pictures at anytime, even after you’ve snapped them.

If you own a compact camera then you’ll know about shutter lag, it’s that horrible pause between pressing the button and the camera taking the picture. If you own a DSLR camera then the shutter lag is vastly reduced, but the weight of the equipment is the price you pay for those extra one hundredths of a second.

What’s great about the LYTRO is it has no auto-focus motor, which means no shutter lag. Allowing you to capture the moment you meant to capture. The Lytro Light Field Camera boasts an 8X optical zoom lens with a constant f/2 aperture, capturing maximum light across the entire zoom range.

If you’re into cameras then you’ll be amazing by the constant f/2 aperture – A DSLR zoom lens with that capability would cost you £1000s, the constant f/2 also means the camera doesn’t need a flash! No more horrible shadows and startled expressions! Plus you can use the camera in situations when flash would be prohibited – musuems, concerts, sporting events.

I’d be the first to admit that the LYTRO looks shit! but this camera isn’t about looks, it’s about the pictures. We won’t know if the camera lives up to the hype until it’s released, which is penciled in for early 2012. Like most things these days, the camera will only ship to the U.S. on release – Hopefully us Europeans will be next to get our hands on this exciting new camera.

I’ve been using Nikon DSLR’s for about 5 years, my first camera was the cheap and cheerful D40, now I shoot with the mid level D300, I’m desperate to trade up to the full frame D3s but the £3500 price tag is putting me off for now!

Until recently most of my ‘camera cash’ has been splashed out on expensive lens, I have a sigma wide angle, ultra fast 200mm telephoto lens and the ‘everyday-do-everything’ 18mm ~ 200mm Nikon lens, the 18-200 is a brilliant lens for nearly all situations.

If like me you get fed up of changing lenses then you’ll love the versatility. The only problem with the 18~200 is you get very lazy when taking shots. Rather than moving around a subject to explore angles and perspective you just end up zoom in and out, which doesn’t make for interesting photographs.

Nikon 50mm F1.8D AF Nikkor Lens

It started to really bug me that my photos were becoming flat, lacking depth and frankly looked really boring! So I decide to look at a few lenses that would give more dynamic results.

After reading a few blogs and forums I got interested in going back to the old school and shooting with a standard fixed 50mm lens. I was shocked when I saw the prices of these lenses! a Nikon 50mm with an ultra fast 1.8 f-stop was only £109 on amazon, that’s a Nikon lens with amazing low light performance for less than a cheap compact camera. For some reason I often find myself shooting in bad light conditions, so a lens which gives good results in low light without flash did appeal to me. After reading this review on Amazon I decided to order the 50mm.

“I’ve been seduced by ultrazoom lenses and cameras over the years and I had forgotten how good photography felt when you move you body rather than zoom in and out with your lens.

The other reviews quite rightly highlight the excellent performance of the wide range of aperture settings from 1.8 to 22 so I don’t want to repeat what they have said.<

I’ve been using my D300 with an 18-200mm lens for most of the time – occasionally swapping for a wide angle 10-20mm lens when needed. Both are fairly heavy, but very versatile. The 50mm is the first prime lens I have used since I started digital photography some 7 years ago.

My whole attitude to the subject matter changes when I can’t just zoom in and out, I find myself composing much more interesting shots. This has been a great addition for my DSLR.”

I can totally agree with the review on Amazon, this lens will fundamentally change the way you look at photography, when you consider the price is a give away compared to other lenses you’d be mad not to buy one of these.

Here’s a couple of portrait shots I took with the Nikon 50mm lens.

With the 2013 Grand National only a few months away I decided it was time to get myself to Aintree and check out some of the runners in the Becher Chase. The race is a well known test for horses considering a run in the National, and this years field included past Grand National winner ‘Ballabriggs’ and also the pre race favourite for 2013 ‘Join Together’.

The race itself was a fairly competitive affair and ‘Join Together’ lived up to the hype by finishing a credible second behind Aintree veteran ‘Hello Bud’ ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies. At 14 years old Hello Bud didn’t have many backers on the day and the bookies loved the result. In fact it’s not often that a winning horse is only 6 years younger than the jockey!

Aintree was looking superb and I had a fantastic day out, it was just a shame that the crowd was a little on the light side. Maybe it was the recent terrible weather or the meetings proximity to Christmas? Whatever the reason for the small crowd those who did make the trip got their monies worth. The days racing also gave me the chance to try out my new Samsung NX1000 camera, this little wonder is a tiny camera with interchangeable lenses. It others the flexibility of a DLSR in the size of a compact camera, perfect for a day out at the races.

If you’ve ever carried around a big DSLR around for a whole day then you’ll know how annoying it can become, the NX1000 bridges that gap between small compacts and semi-pro DSLRs. It handled ever situation perfectly and I can see it becoming a great second camera for me. I’ve included some of the photos of Aintree above – see what you think?

Who knows, one day I might be in the winners enclosure myself – owning a racehorse who could win the Grand National would be a dream come true.

With due deference to the mighty Frankel who opens the show at Royal Ascot in the Queen Anne Stakes on June 19, there is no doubt that the intercontinental challenge of Australia’s brilliant sprinter Black Caviar will be a massive highlight of the five-day racing extravaganza as Peter Moody’s mare makes her first appearance outside of her native land when bidding to land the coveted Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the last day of the fixture.

Such has been the total dominance of the six-year-old over the last few seasons in Australia that she has proved virtually unbackable, (regularly being sent off at odds of 1/20 or shorter), and having well and truly put any pretenders to her crown in their place it was clear that trainer Peter Moody would have to look further afield if his star is indeed to be heralded as one of the all-time great sprinters.

With Australian speedsters having a fine record at Royal Ascot over the last 10 years with the likes of Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Starspangledbanner all having shown their British rival a clean pair of heels, expectation is incredibly high that Black Caviar, (considered to be, by some way, the best sprinter to have travelled to these shores in recent memory), will extend her stunning unbeaten sequence to 22 races. Her presence in the contest is sure to be the focus of the international racing world’s attention and all seems to be on track for her to put high-class opposition to the sword, including top local sprinters Bated Breath, Hoof It, and last year’s winner Society Rock, as well as the French star Moonlight Cloud.

Photos of the daughter of Bel Esprit having made the long journey from Australia in a Cathy Freeman-like body stocking have already started tongues wagging with excitement, and all systems seem to be go for Moody’s pride and joy to illuminate the scene at the world’s greatest race meeting on June 23.