Players and staff blown away by welcome from host city Kitakyushu
Thousands of people have turned out to watch Wales' Rugby World Cup squad in training, ahead of their tournament opener with Georgia on Monday.
Warren Gatland’s side have arrived a training camp in Kitakyushu where the welcome they have received has been described by WRU performance coach Ryan Jones as 'like hosting a party."
Jones, who helped lead the WRU's legacy programme in Kitakyush, said:
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my career. It’s astonishing and it’s been really emotional.
“It’s been like hosting a party. We got up this morning and we were saying ‘Oh, I hope it goes well today and people will turn up’. Then to see the queues and the players’ faces when they came out was just magic.
“It has exceeded all our expectations, but what has really warmed my heart is that it has shown how really strong the brand of Welsh rugby is. People know it’s us and they love the colour red.
“This is what is amazing about our game – having so many people here, young and old, who are new to rugby. That’s the magic of a Rugby World Cup and a day like this.
“The dream was to turn the city red and we’ve done that. Kitakyushu weren’t a host city and we wanted to bring the Rugby World Cup to them.
“They offered to host us and it is a wonderful city. It is quite similar to a Welsh city as well. It’s based on history and the people are incredibly humble.
“What we’ve seen today is the result of 18 months of visits. We have done everything from coach coaches and referees, we’ve been to special education needs schools, universities, normal schools and businesses. We’ve done talk shows – we’ve done the lot really.
“We couldn’t have picked a better partner. The people and the city have just been magnificent.”
Welsh Rugby Union staff have long planned to create a Rugby World Cup legacy in Kitakyushu and have been back and forth to Japan on regular occasions over the last two years.
Monday’s open training session was the culmination of that time, but the WRU plan to continue their work in the Far East far into the future.
Jones also believes the support Wales have received in Japan can help boost Gatland’s men at the World Cup.
“It’s great as the guys are one week out from our first game and to have an experience like this brings it home how amazing an event it is. It will give the players a huge lift,” Jones said.
“We wanted to give our guys a wonderful Rugby World Cup experience. We’ve come to a country where rugby probably isn’t at the forefront of the culture, especially when you get out of the more established areas, but actually there are people that embrace it as well.
“Everywhere we have gone we’ve had an amazing reception.
“It has shown what impact can be made by having very much a can-do attitude. Rugby is for everyone. It has grown every time we have been here.
“A few of us have had a bit of an emotional moment. We have put so much time and effort into it and made some good friends. It has been good fun along the way.
“When I look back on things in my career establishing this has been magnificent.
“I know we will be back, and long may it continue.”