Amazing tales from cycling rugby fans
After cycling 28,000 kilometres through 28 countries to be here, Tom Hudson and Jodie Burton rolled into Blenheim yesterday just in time to see the Russian rugby team leave.
It was the latest rugby experience in their 16-month journey from London, during which they have been spreading the good news of rugby through countries as diverse as Iran, Vietnam and Azerbaijan.
The former Londoners began their Rugby World Cup journey from Twickenham Stadium in London on May 1 last year, shortly after watching the annual Army v Navy match.
The pair have battled their way through minus 25-degree Celsius temperatures in China, sweltered in 45 degrees in Iran and cycled within a few kilometres of Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan.
In every country they have made contact with rugby clubs, their aim being to "buddy up" clubs with bigger clubs in countries such as New Zealand and England.
"We just love the sport and the culture, and this was a great opportunity to get across the world and explore the sport," Mr Hudson said.
They have heard some amazing stories on their travels, including that of Cambodian Ratana Pich, who began life scavenging needles and other reusables in rubbish dumps but who went on to captain the nation's rugby team, travelling internationally with the team.
He was one of a privileged 45 who have signed the English duo's "World in Union" scroll. Only those who have made an impact on the sport have had the privilege of signing it, such as Richie McCaw, who completed the scroll when he signed it yesterday morning.
They will give the scroll to the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North.
Mr Hudson said their journey had had its share of highs and lows – the lowest being China where the thought of giving up crossed their minds more than once.
"We nearly gave up thousands of times in China. It made the Australian Outback look quite populated – there was just nobody out there. It was 10 times worse than any other point of this trip."
They will complete their journey when they pull up to Eden Park on the evening of the World Cup final, but as yet they don't have tickets.
They have been watching the matches in pubs and houses where they have been put up, but have been given tickets to both quarterfinals in Wellington. "It doesn't matter where you are, it's just a fantastic atmosphere," Mr Hudson said.
They will spend three days in Blenheim and are being looked after by Destination Marlborough, who have organised trips and activities for them. Staff had been a massive help in showing off the best the region had to offer, the couple said.
They next head to Wellington via Picton, but will not end their journey to Eden Park with a trip back to London. They intend making the southern hemisphere their home by flying to Melbourne as immigrants.