Will’s Incredible Journey to Japan

Sometimes in life things happen to you that make you take stock of who you are as a human, and how you behave. It happened again to me last night when I had dinner with the incredible Will Gaudie, winner of two Rugby World Cup Final tickets in Front Row Club’s competition.

Of course, I have felt that way before, most recently when I visited the children that we help through Jason Leonard’s Atlas Foundation projects in Botswana last year, and in South Africa and India this year. The massive contrast between the crushing poverty of these kids, the filthy conditions and danger that they live in, and the warmth of their welcome, and their excitement of us just being there with them, is humbling beyond imagination.

It makes you realise that all of the material things you crave in your life, pale into insignificance in comparison to the life and death struggles that these kids face every day.

That’s why I support and promote Atlas, and its new online membership, Front Row Club, because I genuinely feel we are helping improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest kids, through the power of rugby. It’s not just rugby coaching and kit that we supply, but food and education programmes too, and we even help build community centres as well.



So, what has all of this got to do with Will Gaudie? Well a few months ago, Front Row Club ran a competition to win two tickets for the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final in Japan. Two weeks ago, we made the draw, and Will was the winner.

Will is 25 and loves his rugby, he lives in Yorkshire with his super Mum Sue, originally from Cornwall, and his Yorkshire born and bred farmer Dad, Angus. They all live on a farm where they produce the best clotted cream in the UK! Will has two rugby playing brothers, Joe and Sam. But Will can’t play rugby, because he has cerebral palsy.

Eighteen months ago Will, and his brothers’ rugby coach, Phillip “Tilly” Tilson, hatched a plan to come to the Rugby World Cup. Tilly said: “If you want to go Will, I will give up my job [as a teacher] and take you”.

And so it came to pass, after a meticulously planned trip by Will’s mum, that they arrived in time for England’s pool game against Argentina.

Since then Will and Tilly have seen every England game, they have been to Oita, twice, to see both quarter finals and other games there, they have been to Kyoto, slept on floors, embraced Japanese food and culture, wearing their kimonos with pride to breakfast, and have eaten unspeakable, and unknown things!

And all of this has been done at breakneck speed. Will pays little attention to his own disability, he has just gone at this trip full on, with incredible energy, supported willingly every step of the journey by his loyal companion Tilly, who did give up his job as a teacher, in a selfless and remarkable act of loyalty and commitment.

Their journey was supposed to finish after they saw both semi-finals, but winning the Front Row Club prize changed all of that and they are staying on in Japan for the final.

Last night it was humbling to meet them both Will and Tilly, along with Will’s Mum, Sue, and Dad, Angus. It was another one of those moments that makes you question all that you have done in your life to date and its purpose. It was a privilege to meet Will and his family, and I will never complain about my arthritic knees going up and down stairs ever again, seeing the way Will attacks that task with such gusto!

When Jason Leonard turned up to hand over Will’s tickets, Will was clearly overjoyed, and his excitement was palpable as he embraced the 2003 Rugby World Cup winner. Jason, too was humbled by Will and Tilly’s story, and I am not sure who was the most star-struck!

Will is indeed, an astonishing young man, he just gets on with his life, and has clearly lived it to the full in Japan, despite his obvious health challenges. He is a true inspiration, and I simply can’t think of a more deserving winner of Front Row Club’s Rugby World Cup Final tickets.

Despite the Final result going the wrong way for two proud Englishmen, it was an absolute pleasure to spend the afternoon sitting alongside Will. With his sharp rugby brain, and insightful commentary, it might have been better had be been sitting with Eddie and the rest of the England coaching team, we probably would have had a better result for us!


Written by Michael ‘Rhino’ Whitfield