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Rugby World Cup 2019

2019 Rugby World Cup: pair cycling from London to Tokyo to deliver referee’s whistle for Japan vs Russia opening game

  • Ron Rutland and James Owens will ride 20,093km from Twickenham to Tokyo to arrive for the first match
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 8:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 9:13pm

Two Hongkongers are embarking on an epic cycle ride from London to Tokyo to deliver the referee’s whistle to the Rugby World Cup’s opening match.

Ron Rutland and James Owens are starting their journey from Twickenham, the location of the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, and heading to Tokyo Stadium for the opening game of the 2019 tournament, Japan versus Russia.

But Rutland is not new to these kind of mad adventures. He cycled from his home in South Africa to Brighton in 2015 to watch his nation begin their World Cup campaign. It took 27 months and he arrived to see Japan famously beat South Africa.

Then, last year he caddied for Adam Rolston, who set a record for playing golf across Mongolia.

“The last cycle was a lot longer, so you went from thinking this is the best day of my life, to this is drudgery. But I was already thinking ‘what’s next?’,” Rutland said. “But after Adam and my trip in Mongolia I did think physically my adventurer’s days were over.”

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After a while though, the itch returned and his mind drifted from his desk towards planning future goals.

Living in Hong Kong, Rutland could feel the excitement building towards the first Rugby World Cup held in Asia. He also had a hip replacement, which made him reflect on his age and the time left before adventures would be beyond him.

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“I’m really living when I’m planning and doing these things,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of support from friends and family once the eye rolling was over.”

“The power of the made-up mind is incredible,” Rutland said. “Crazy things are possible with planning. You draw a line on a map and it looks really far but then you plan and see there are only seven visas we need, OK we have to cross two seas, but you can cycle from Europe to Shanghai.”

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World Rugby has entrusted the pair with the whistle for the first game, so there is pressure to arrive on time.

“We have to cover 600km a week, so that is physically challenging,” said Rutland, who begins the trip in February.

“The real test will be the volume of cycling 30 to 40 hours a week. The challenge in Africa was the unknown, the state of roads, the war zones, but now the issue is volume.”

On his first cycle he was alone. This time Rutland has decided to pair up with Owens, who he calls “an adventurist soul”.

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Owens is the son of Rutland’s doctor, who helped him through his hip surgery. And when the doctor found out Rutland was raising money for ChildFund Pass It Back, the official Rugby World Cup charity, he introduced the South African to his son, who works for the charity in Thailand.

“Some of the most incredible experiences in Africa were because I was vulnerable. Those human experiences are because people see you are alone and want to help, but they may not if you’re a two.

“But you miss that shared experience. On weight, going with someone is better,” Rutland said.

The most important thing is making sure their ambitions are aligned. Finding that they were, and that the pair got along, the two teamed up.

“But eight months on the road, I’m sure we’ll have our moments like married couples or anybody,” he said.

ChildFund Pass It Back helps children across Asia learn essential life skills, and helped with disaster relief in Japan. Owens and Rutland will be in Hong Kong on August 23 for a fundraiser and will invite people to cycle from the city to the border with mainland China.

For now, they are just excited to get started.

“The excitement for the World Cup is tangible,” Rutland said. “And to be part of that and to be able to contribute to the legacy of the first Rugby World Cup in Asia in a small way, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

You can follow their journey and donate to their cause here.