He’s only been back in Bedford for a few days, but Will Hooley is already raring to get back into the swing of things at the Bedford Independent.
Fresh from his World Cup experience with Team USA, the Bedford Blues fly-half tells us what being in Japan meant for him, and what he thinks the rest of the world cup has in store for the four teams left…
Rugby’s greatest competition comes to its final stages. The best four teams in the world will battle it out over this weekend in Yokohama, Japan.
England versus New Zealand, Wales versus South Africa; it’s northern hemisphere against southern hemisphere.
Mouth-watering for any rugby fan, nerve jangling for supporters of each nation. It is precisely that excitement and nerves that ran through me over the last five weeks.
Playing for the USA at the Rugby World Cup was a dream come true. To go up against some of the best sides and players in the world was an incredible and exhilarating challenge.
The results and performances were not what we had hoped for as a side. There is still that raw emotion that lingers in me.
After all the hard work I wish we could have done better. Sport unfortunately can’t always be so romantic.
However, as time surpasses, the enormity of the experience, the positives and the learnings, all shared with my partner, teammates, family and friends, encapsulated one of the greatest times in my life.
Japan has gone rugby mad
The welcoming and warming experience the Japanese people gave us as players was truly remarkable.
Each city we were located in we were treated as kings and recognised where we went. ‘Arigato’ rolled off the tongue.
‘Thank you’ was not used simply because we were inept to speak any other Japanese, but because we kept finding ourselves overwhelmed by the generosity we received.
Our national anthem was sung by local school children in Kumagaya; the noise of the crowd cheering in Fukuoka could be heard constantly.
It was a bit like the way the Japan national side played, the support was electric, willing to inspire rugby fans alike, and all doing it with so much positivity.
Japan as a rugby team and as a hosting nation has transcended rugby into a different league. Something that everyone around the world can agree with.
One of my proudest days was the challenge of taking on England in Kobe.
To play against my birth nation was weird enough, but to also compete with ex-teammates and friends alike made it not just any ordinary rugby game.
England were superior that night, not allowing us to fire a shot and unloaded their attack with such accuracy.
Unfortunately, after working my socks off, I succumbed to a knock right near the end of the game.
“The support I received from people back in Bedford to people in America was overwhelming.”
It’s one of the reasons I love this sport. You put your body on the line but ultimately there is a genuine care amongst each other in the rugby community.
Fortunately for me my World Cup didn’t end there, and I managed get back for the last two games of the group stage.
Enjoying the rest from the sofa
Now we are out the tournament, I sit here at home watching the rest of events unravel in Japan.
This weekend provides a whole host of excitement. I most certainly will be cheering England on.
They were very impressive in our pool and have kicked on into the semi-final looking accurate and, most importantly, confident.
It is a huge task for them to see off the current World Champions, the All Blacks. New Zealand were worryingly impressive against Ireland last Saturday.
Physical in defence with a cutting edge to their attack, you feel if they play like that again they will be odds on favourites to win the World Cup.
Nonetheless, England can rattle their opponents and use the slippery humid conditions to their advantage. Win that semi-final and England may have a hand on the Webb Ellis trophy.
Wales and South Africa will have something to say about that. The Welsh squeezed past a French team that crucified themselves after a red card in the quarter-final second half.
However, Wales are in a habit of winning and it was only a year ago when they downed South Africa in Cardiff.
As for the Springboks they were imperious in destroying Japanese dreams last Sunday. Physically so strong with pace to burn on the edges.
The men in green have constantly improved as the tournament has gone on and haven’t shown any signs of slowing down.
I hope and believe England can win, but unfortunately on paper it would suggest a New Zealand versus South Africa final.
Nonetheless I applaud all four of the teams who have got this far.
The weekend has not come from the past four weeks of hard work but ultimately the last four years since the last World Cup.
This summer alone, I from experience can say it has been amazing, but also shattering, to get to the position of even boarding a plane ready for the first game in Japan.
These guys have gone the whole way and are nearly at the last hurdle. The Japanese people will cheer them on. Memories will be created.
Sadly, this weekend, like what has happened to me, two teams will end their Japan World Cup experience. A tournament that has given rugby fans and players everything and more.
Additional words: Paul Hutchinson