Wales' Rugby World Cup stars receive home from home welcome in Kitakyushu

Press Association Sport 15:22 14/09/2019
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Alun Wyn Jones signs autographs for Japanese fans upon Wales' arrival (Pic courtesy of WRU Twitter).

Wales’ World Cup stars received a home from home welcome when they arrived in Kitakyushu on Saturday.

Local schoolchildren, some wearing Wales shirts, welcomed the players, coaches and support staff at Kitakyushu Airport.

The Wales squad will spend six days in the southern Japanese city, continuing preparations ahead of their World Cup opener against Georgia on September 23.

Head coach Warren Gatland and captain Alun Wyn Jones were presented with flowers underneath a “Go, Go Wales” banner that spanned the arrivals hall as the city of just under one million population underlined its World Cup support.

Players signed autographs and posed for pictures on their way through arrivals, while Wales’ official World Cup arrival ceremony will take place in the city on Monday.

Kitakyushu was not among the 12 venues chosen to stage a World Cup game, so decided to show its backing for Wales in the tournament.

The Welsh Rugby Union, meanwhile, embarked on a legacy programme in Kitakyushu 18 months ago, which has included organising and running coaching and refereeing courses.

“We wanted to leave a legacy here,” said former Wales full-back and wing Rhys Williams, who has been closely involved with the project.

“We want to ensure that we’re helping to support growth of rugby in this area, as well as the growth of Welsh rugby in this area.

“When we leave, we are hoping we will have a lot more coaches, referees and people engaged in the sport so that rugby can thrive here.

“It has been an amazing partnership, and the city have worked really hard with us. This is the culmination of all that.”

Gatland is due to front his first pre-World Cup press conference in Japan on Sunday.

It comes amid the possibility that locks Adam Beard and Cory Hill could both be unavailable for the Georgia encounter in Toyota City.

Ospreys forward Beard is set to join the squad early next week after having his appendix removed in Wales.

And Beard’s second-row colleague Hill is continuing to recover from a stress fracture in his leg, with the second pool fixture against Australia on September 29 his stated initial target.

Wales hope that 23-year-old Beard will be available to face Georgia after being assessed on his arrival, it is understood.

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