The whistle to be used by referee Nigel Owens during the opening match of the World Cup has safely been delivered by two audacious cyclists.
Ron Rutland and James Owens travelled by bike through 27 countries since February, after departing from Twickenham Stadium – the venue of the 2015 World Cup Final – and arriving in Tokyo in time for Friday’s opener between Japan and Russia.
The challenging journey was in aid of raising awareness and funds for ChildFund Pass it Back, a charity working in collaboration with World Rugby to empower under-privileged children across Asia through the game of rugby.
‘It is amazing to be here, this is incredibly surreal,’ said Owens, who is of no relation to referee Nigel.
‘We have been on a hell of a journey since leaving London six months ago.
‘It has been more of just a journey with Ron and I. We have had this incredible support network all trip.
‘Thank you to everyone who has bought into our journey and tracked this whistle. It has had a fair few adventures,’ continued Owens.
Following their exploits, the pair will now remain in Japan to enjoy the global showpiece.
‘These guys have made it a very tough act to follow actually,’ said tournament director Alan Gilpin.
‘The next six weeks will have to go some way to matching the epic journey these guys have been on,’ added Gilpin.
Welsh referee Owens will have the honour of officiating the opening game of the first World Cup to be staged in Asia, after also being the man in the middle during the 2015 final.
The Pool A clash between the hosts and Russia kicks off at 12:45pm SA time.
Photo: REUTERS/Matthew Childs