The 2019 Rugby World Cup shows that if countries want to enjoy success in that sport, they can do a lot worse than looking to Chelsea, with three of the semi-finalists having visited the Blues.
As the tournament in Japan reaches its latter stages, England face New Zealand in the first semi on Saturday before South Africa take on Wales the next day for the second spot in the final. If the Welsh lose out it could provide further evidence, as they are the only team not to have visited Chelsea in the past.
Their opponents South Africa popped along to Cobham during the last World Cup (pictured, top), which was hosted in England in 2015 with matches taking place a short distance away at Twickenham. There the Springboks squad, which included a number of players competing again in Japan, were given a tour of our training ground by boss Jose Mourinho before watching the Blues in action on the training pitch and meeting the footballers.
South Africa’s current captain Siya Kolisi seemed especially excited by some of the Chelsea stars, particularly Diego Costa (above), as players from both sides came together to get photographs of the meeting.
During that same World Cup, England fly-half and big Chelsea fan George Ford relaxed after their opening win of the tournament by bringing his friend and international team-mate Joe Launchbury to Stamford Bridge to see the Blues beat Arsenal (below).
However, that was nothing new for Ford, who as well as supporting us struck up a friendship with then Chelsea and England defender Gary Cahill when they went head-to-head in a crossbar challenge to help the two sports’ national sides celebrate St George’s Day.
It isn’t just the England rugby side’s players who have shown their appreciation for Chelsea, though, as their head coach Eddie Jones spent time at Cobham taking tips from our training methods during Guus Hiddink’s second spell here, before later inviting Antonio Conte and his staff to observe one of Jones’ own sessions with England.
‘It is fantastic to come to Chelsea, which is one of the greatest clubs in the world of football,’ said the England boss. ‘There are always little bits and pieces you take away with you. The first part of the day in the Academy with Neil Bath was very useful and then the rest of the day with the senior squad was also very useful so there are definitely pieces we can use.’
The inspiration went both ways, though, as Jones’ forward coach Steve Borthwick revealed: ‘As Eddie and I were stood on the sidelines during training we were thinking then about ideas from watching some of the practices, things we could apply into what we do.
‘Guus Hiddink told us he brought a bit of rugby into one of his warm-ups, with the players tackling each other, and he certainly seems enthusiastic over the sport.’
Jones and Borthwick are plotting a way past New Zealand in the semi-finals, and several of their opponents are also familiar with Stamford Bridge, as their squad came to SW6 to watch us play Liverpool in 2012/13, led by the massive Chelsea fan in their ranks, Ma’a Nonu.
Nonu, now 37, missed out on selection for this World Cup, despite starring for the All Blacks as they won the last two tournaments, including a brilliant solo try in the 2015 final.
However, a number of the team out in Japan were also on that trip to the Bridge, including centre Sonny Bill Williams – who plays his club rugby alongside Nonu for Auckland-based side the Blues – and Nonu has always tried his best to recruit his team-mates, and anyone else he meets in New Zealand, to the Chelsea cause.
‘I’ve watched Chelsea over a long time, my dad was a big Liverpool fan so it started partly to annoy him!’ said Nonu during that visit. ‘I’ve got my Torres shirt from my brother, who lives here in England, and I wear it constantly all over the All Blacks camp. I wear it every day, I wear it to the gym, everywhere. I get a lot of people commenting on my shirt.’