English fans cycle all the way to Dunedin

England rugby fans Jodie Burton and Tom Hudson show their "World in Union" scroll outside Otago...
England rugby fans Jodie Burton and Tom Hudson show their "World in Union" scroll outside Otago Stadium yesterday. The couple have cycled halfway around the world to make it to the Rugby World Cup tournament. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Diehard rugby fans Tom Hudson and Jodie Burton have cycled halfway around the world, crossed Chinese deserts, battled Romanian bears and spread the good word about the oval ball code to make it to Dunedin for the World Cup.

The England supporters do not have tickets to any of matches, but are "stoked" to be in New Zealand after a journey, which has seen them clock up 28,000km on their bikes.

The couple left their investment banking jobs in London 18 months ago to set out on their epic adventure and have visited out-of-the way communities promoting the game of rugby in 28 countries along the way.

"It's amazing the following the All Blacks have around the world. You wouldn't believe how many isolated places where they play the game and back your team," Mr Hudson said.

The pair have collected signatures from international rugby identities for their "world in union" scroll and intend to present the piece of memorabilia to the Rugby Museum of New Zealand in Palmerston North.

They plan to be in Auckland for the World Cup semifinals and have calculated they will need to cycle about 500km a week to make it in time.

The couple, who are both aged 30, arrived in Dunedin on Monday to reunite with Mr Hudson's parents, who live at Vauxhall.

"I've only visited them once, for a couple of days, after they moved here about six years ago," he said.

They are in Dunedin for England's tournament opener against Argentina at Otago Stadium on Saturday, but will miss the remaining games as they have to be on their bikes by Monday to make the knockout matches in the North Island.

However, they intend to return after the World Cup final in Auckland for some more of the"home comforts" courtesy of Mr Hudson's parents.

Ms Burton said it had been her idea to cycle to New Zealand, after Mr Hudson first raised the idea of travelling down under for the World Cup.

"He just wanted to go and watch the rugby, while I wanted to go exploring, so we combined everything into the one adventure," she said.

The pair have used their trip to raise funds for Tag Rugby Trust, a non-profit organisation which helps isolated communities and clubs around the world by promoting the union code.

Mr Hudson and Ms Burton are also hoping to stop at New Zealand rugby clubs during their ride north to try to convince them to"buddy up" with clubs in poorer countries.

"We're hoping some of Dunedin's clubs might contact us through our 'cycling to the Rugby World Cup' website," they said.

While their journey has seen them attacked by bears in Romania and crippled by frostbite in China, they say they have been constantly surprised at the opportunities which the game provides through its "grassroots mentality".

They hope to get tickets to some pool games on their journey to Auckland, but are happy "just to be here" to take in New Zealand's rugby culture as World Cup hosts, Mr Hudson said.

- Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald


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