KITAKYUSHU, 16 Sep - Wales turned the "city without a game" into a sea of red as their Rugby World Cup preparations were given a remarkable lift-off on Monday.

About 15,000 locals filled the Kitakyushu Stadium to watch the players complete a rigorous workout, having greeted their appearance with a rousing rendition of the Welsh national anthem, Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land Of My Fathers).

The crowd, with huge numbers wearing Wales rugby jerseys and waving red dragon banners, also sang Calon Lan, the hymn closely associated with the sport in Wales, from lyric sheets with Japanese lettering.

"I've never experienced anything like this in my career. It's astonishing and really emotional," said former Wales captain Ryan Jones, who is now performance director at the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

"The dream when we started this was to turn the city red and we've done that. They weren't a host city and we wanted to bring the Rugby World Cup to them.

"Let's put it into context. This isn't a game, it's a training session. It's a Monday afternoon and there are around 15,000 people here. It has exceeded all our expectations.

"It's been like hosting a party. We got up this morning and we were saying 'oh, I hope it goes well and people will turn up'. Then to see the queues and the players' faces when they came out, it was just magic."

Jones, who won three Six Nations grand slams, has led coaching trips to Kitakyushu after the city missed out on staging a game, and approached the WRU with the offer of hosting the squad.

The city has embraced the team, with the Welsh dragon painted on buses, 'Go Go Wales' banners everywhere and locals walking around in Wales kit.

Queues, at times almost 1km long, formed outside the stadium on Monday, forcing Wales to delay the start of the training session.

"Seeing the players' faces here, they didn't comprehend it," said Jones. "They have never seen anything like that and will remember it forever."

 RNS ig/bo/pr/lm