By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – The Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup may still be 13 months away but the Wales Rugby Union are already building bridges that they hope will pay dividends come tournament time.
The Welsh team will be based in the city of Kitakyushu on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu during the tournament and have already begun an outreach and coaching programme for locals.
“We wanted to be a little bit different, so our legacy is starting now,” former captain Ryan Jones said in an email to Reuters about their visit. “We are trying to lead the way in terms of preparations and support for 2019.
“Rugby is not the game that takes, it’s the game that gives back by being accessible and authentic.
“Our aim is to create a long-lasting and impactful relationships with communities in Japan.”
Jones and the WRU ran coaching sessions for 600 children on their most recent visit, whilst a coaching course was attended by 50 local coaches.
“The response we have had from this is unbelievable with great support,” added the former British and Irish Lions loose forward, who was a member of the Welsh team at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
“Everyone is getting behind the team and Wales, which is really important when you are away from home.”
The WRU believe the extra work they are putting in now by ingratiating themselves with the local community will lead to success on the field when the competition starts.
“The job isn’t just about 80 minutes on the field, it is about everything that comes with it and a big part of that is engaging with local communities,” said Jones.
“For players to feel the support in the towns, cities and countries they visit, they have to invest in those communities first.
“It is a chance for players to experience a new environment and I am sure they will embrace that. The teams that settle best will do well.”
Warren Gatland’s squad have been drawn in Pool D with Australia, Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay.
Jones said they would arrive in Japan 11 days before their opening match against Georgia on Sept. 23 at Toyota Stadium, but by then the community work would have already been done.
“We don’t just want to rock up at the World Cup, play our matches and move on,” said Jones.
“We want to create a real legacy.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)