The 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) will forever be etched into the memories of South Africans, but more so for two men without whom the opening match would not have taken place. Ron Rutland and James Owens took up the challenge to deliver the whistle used to signal the start of the opening match and they did so by cycling 20 000km from London, across Europe and Asia.
Fast forward almost two years, and Showmax and SuperSport will later this month, host the sport documentary Everything in Between, which follows Owen and Rutland’s epic journey.
Producers said the film delves deep into the fortitude, both physical and mental, it took to pedal across 27 countries. Also called The Race to the Rugby World Cup, it provides an inspirational exploration of human connections that transcend cultural differences and highlights how the rugby world helped raise more than R1 million for the official RWC charity, Child Fund.
Some two years in the making, the documentary was co-produced by Andrew King and Greg Fell from Cape Town production house Fell + Co.
The chief executive of World Rugby, Alan Gilpin, said what started as a rather simple but very ambitious plan turned into an epic saga.
“This film tells one of the great stories of human endeavour and sport for good, and is a fantastic tribute to Ron, James and the people they met during their race to the Rugby World Cup 2019,” he said.
Set against the backdrop of some of Eastern Europe and Western Asia’s most spectacular and rarely-seen landscapes, and overlaid with music by international composers Jason Tse (Hong Kong) and Nathaniel Edgar (Canada), as well as tracks from local South African artists Wild Eastern Arches and Alice Phoebe Lou, the endearing tales of Rutland and Owens’ encounters with the local peoples will resonate with a broad audience. According to Fell, viewers can expect a grand celebration of life from the film.
“The expedition was a mega adventure and that’s not necessarily what everyone is going to go out and do, but if you really want something badly enough – as much as Ron wanted to get that whistle to the World Cup – you can make it happen. Ron inspires people to expand their own universe,” said the production house.
The duo said the whistle idea wasn’t their first choice but turned out to be the more practical one.
“The original idea was to see if we could take a plastic replica of the RWC trophy itself, and use that as a symbol of our journey from London to Tokyo. But when I discussed this with Alan Gilpin, who being a keen cyclist himself, and therefore understanding the challenges of ‘space’, or the lack thereof, suggested we rather consider delivering the match whistle for the opening game – a much more sensible idea! This of course tied in with our expedition sponsor DHL, who are all about ‘delivery’,” they said.
While every RWC has a commemorative whistle, produced for the opening game of each tournament, this was the first time it was delivered in such a way. Planning and prepping for such a huge undertaking took the duo nine month, and to get in shape for a trek that would last 231 days.
The pair said the hardest part of their journey was being away from family and putting work on hold.
“The biggest cost is the opportunity cost of leaving your job behind and spending eight months on the road, as well as the personal cost of leaving family and friends for an extended period – but of course, these are more than outweighed by the priceless experiences of a journey like this. The people we met,and every human interaction, was a reminder of the goodness of people,” they said.
While it did take them a few months to rest their weary bones, the six weeks they spent in Tokyo and watching the Springboks win, made their adventure that much sweeter.
When they are not delivering whistles and cycling across continents, Rutland, who lives in KZN, spends his time planning future adventures and working the corporate speaking circuit.
Owens, who lives in Hong Kong, is in the Sport for Development space, working for the Hong Kong rugby community. And without giving too much away, the pair said plans are already in the making for the next Rugby World Cup in France in 2023.
Rutland and Owens concluded that Child Fund Rugby not only promotes the right to play in communities where children face challenges accessing organised sport, it also provides important learning opportunities where children can practise positive attitudes and behaviours supporting gender equality in their communities. Their adventure and the tournament itself, raised R2.5 million for Child Fund Pass It Back .