The Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan sadly seems a distant memory.
Considered the biggest stage of a professional rugby players career saw a record-breaking 1,698,528 (37,745 per match) spectators attend the matches.
Of the 20 nations participating, GHN had a sponsored athlete representing the USA. Bedford Blues Fly Half Will Hooley who previously represented England at international level with two age-grade sides was included in the USA Eagles 31 man squad for the tournament and featured in 3 of the 4 matches.
GHN recently caught up with Will, who has graciously agreed to share his astonishing experience.
Will Hooley: Rugby World Cup 2019 - My Experience
It’s funny how quickly time flies. The Rugby World Cup in Japan is now a distant memory – for players we have all moved on. As someone in sport, you realise how a career comes so thick and fast it is easy to get dragged along and not have time to stop. It is only when you do, that you allow yourself a bit of time to admire the achievements and memories that have happened. As I look on the wall in my house at my first World Cup shirt and participation cap, emotions start to come back. From the highs and the lows, to the hair raising and enjoyable moments, the frame on the wall illustrates very proud memories of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Playing for the USA at the 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.
And as for Japan! The nation that 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 UK 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. I managed get back for the last two games of the group stage, against Argentina and Tonga,
where I probably played my best.
As the World Cup came to an end, it would be wrong for me to say that switching back to ‘normal day’ club rugby life was easy. It was a come down to say the least! The summer of 2019, combined with September and October, had all been about the World Cup. The sad thing for all players, coaches, staff and fans is that we now have to wait until 2023.
However, I am more driven than ever to learn from my amazing World Cup experience in Japan. I believe as a US side we will learn a huge amount and seek to develop even further over the next few years. World Cups are the pinnacle and something that I realise come with a lot of hard work. I will focus on continuing to develop my game and seek to gain more shirts, caps and memories from hopefully the next World Cup.