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Japan trip of a lifetime to remember lost friends

Five former Cardiff University students recently took Japan by storm; watching the Rugby World Cup, gaining fans and even appearing on Japanese TV. The trip was to mark the centenary of the Welsh School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, where the group studied between 1988-91, and also remember two university friends who sadly passed away – Ian Cottrell from Haverfordwest and Steve Willis from Felinfoel, 12 and 16 years ago respectively.

Pharmacists Jamie Hayes, 49, from Bridgend, Steve Williams, 49, from West Wales and Darren Cooper, 50 from Newport, joined fellow graduates Mark Dixon, 49, a civil engineer from Bridgend and Patrick Marshall, a fund manager from Belfast, on the trip of a lifetime which was conceived four years ago.

Jamie said: “We normally all meet up around this time of year to remember Ian and Steve and play a friendly game of golf. The ‘Cottrell/Willis Memorials Trophy’ usually takes place at a lovely course in Northern Spain, but when Japan was announced as the Rugby World Cup host city in 2014, a friend, Eric Holmes from Edinburgh, suggested the trip and it went from there.

“Each person was given a tour role including director of transport, tourism, attire, music and social media. We dressed as soldiers from Rorke’s Drift – who sang Men of Harlech – which proved a huge hit, not only with the locals, but with all rugby supporters who would often stop for photos with us on Wales match days.”

Managing Director of Swansea-based Vortex IoT, Adrian Sutton, was one fellow Wales fan in Japan for a trade mission at the time who met the uplifting group. Adrian said: “Jamie and his friends became a tourist attraction all by themselves at games! They brought everyone together and created a fantastic atmosphere around them.”

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The group stayed in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo for two weeks, taking in five games in total including Wales vs Georgia in Toyota city and Wales vs Australia in Tokyo. Not all rugby-centric, the ‘RWC19Celts’ – as they were known on Twitter – also stayed overnight in Nagoya and for a cultural trip to Kyoto.

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