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Planes, bullet trains and board room deals

Gareth Davies was host to Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and former Japan Prime Minister Yoshirō Mori at Japan’s 38-19 Pool A victory over Samoa

Planes, bullet trains and board room deals

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies is racking up air miles and man hours on diplomatic duty in Japan, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Davies hosted a selection of Rugby World Cup welcome ceremonies – for Ireland in Chiba, Russia in Saitama, Scotland in Nagasaki, Wales in Kitakyushu and Canada in Nagato – before the showpiece tournament kicked-off just over two weeks ago and is already in double figures in terms of matches attended at the completion of the third round of the Pool stages.

On Saturday he joined Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and former Japan Prime Minister Yoshirō Mori at Japan’s 38-19 Pool A victory over Samoa, attending his 12th game in 18 days of a tournament which is itself only 28 matches in.

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Eight bullet trains, seven internal flights and the same number of long distance car journeys and hotels have facilitated moves between welcome ceremony locations as well as Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohama, Toyota, Kumagaya, Fukuoka and Kobe over the last three weeks.

But he is hugely conscious of the privilege of his position as WRU chairman and adamant the six hour ‘red eye’ road trips are worth every second, as he soaks up the atmosphere at the most spectacular World Cup yet and spreads the message of all that is good about the game in Wales at rugby’s top tables.

“My itinerary is pretty full to say the least, but there’s obviously nowhere I’d rather be,” said Davies.

“The big story out here is definitely Japan, they’ve been magnificent not just as hosts but also on the pitch.

“The way they play the game has really captured the imagination of the rugby watching world, not just the people of Japan.

“People wondered if rugby could take off in a country with no real long standing history in the game and we were told that there was no way the World Cup would make the front pages out here.

“But, since Japan beat Ireland, rugby has been ever present on the front pages every day and, even before the tournament kicked-off events like the Wales open training session in Kitakyushu were making nationwide news.

“It’s truly breath-taking how World Cup fever has swept through the nation and it’s only going to get more intense as the knock-out stages loom.

“But we are getting a lot of work done off the pitch as well, Welsh rugby has represented itself well, which makes my job all the easier and having all the officials from all of the major rugby playing nations around the world in one place facilitates significant and important progress.”

Davies has been recently based in Tokyo after taking in Japan’s round three match and also attending New Zealand’s high scoring win over Namibia, but he hit the road again this morning to head back to Kobe, where he last saw Ireland beat Russia, for South Africa v Canada, before heading to a new city, Oita – to watch his native Wales take on Fiji tomorrow (Wednesday).

“We tend to be travelling two days out of every three and we are fitting in Rugby World Cup Board meetings around the matches, making best use of the time we have together all in one country,” he continued.

“I have a WRU Board meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) night after the Springboks’ game in Kobe, which I’ll get to by bullet train, to prepare for and, after that game, we then fly to Oita for the Wales game on Wednesday, before returning to Tokyo on Thursday.

“Next it’s Shizuoka to watch the Wallabies against Georgia and then Yokohoma for France versus England, before another flight and a RWC Board meeting next Monday, so it’s a busy week!”

Davies may not be emulating RWC Superfan ‘Bak-san’ Hiroshi Moriyama, who has attracted world-wide attention with his dedication to supporting as many teams as possible at the tournament by ‘wearing’ body-painted shirts at each game, but he is expected to remain as impartial as possible whilst on official diplomatic duty.

He will, however, allow that impartiality to slip as Warren Gatland’s side target the quarter-final stages with a win over the side which knocked them out of the 2007 World Cup, but he will be very much amongst friends in Japan on that score, with one city in particular nailing their colours to Wales’ mast ahead of the Fiji game.

“The support and the welcome that the city of Kitakyushu showed our team during the open training session, before the tournament started, with 15,300 attendees, was astonishing and will stay in our memories for a long time,” he says in a letter sent to the city’s mayor Kenji Kitahashi this week.

“The squad commented on what an amazing experience it was, to hear a Japanese crowd sing the Welsh National Anthem and this, alongside the fantastic facilities provided by the city, gave them the very best preparation going into the tournament.

“I would like to show my appreciation to mayor Kitahashi and his fantastic city team in particular.

“Their forward thinking in supporting a WRU programme to deliver rugby to over 3,000 if the city’s citizens should be commended.

“To all of the rugby supporters in Japan, thank you for taking Welsh rugby into your hearts and embracing our culture.

“And to the people of Kitakyushu, we look forward to your continued support for the team as they, hopefully, progress through the World Cup and look forward to our continued engagement with the city in the future.”

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