A WARM Pompey welcome was given to the USA rugby team as it started its World Cup campaign in the city.
The ceremony at HMS Nelson Wardroom in Portsea marked the beginning of the squad’s fight to win the trophy.
There were cheers of support as the smartly-dressed team made their big entrance into the ornate room, which is steeped in naval history.
The team’s first clash is against Samoa in Brighton on Sunday, September 20, and their base for the campaign will be Portsmouth.
The ceremony began with a performance of World in Union by the choir from Queen Elizabeth’s School from Wimborne Minster, Dorset.
There were welcome speeches from the chief executive of World Rugby Brett Gosper and the chief executive of Rugby Football Union Ian Ritchie.
Mr Gosper told the audience: ‘I have got a feeling it’s going to be the best Rugby World Cup ever.’
Each member of the team was presented with a tournament cap and Rugby World Cup 2015 participation medal.
Chris Wyles, the USA captain, said: ‘It’s an unbelievable honour to be here. It’s been a fantastic welcome.
‘It’s raised a lot of excitement in the boys. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’
Rear Admiral Keith Beckett CBE said it was a ‘fiercesomely impressive-looking’ American team.
He said the navy had a long tradition of playing rugby.
He invited the team ‘to see what the area has to offer’.
Sitting in the audience were Colin and Lyn Burton, from Old Portsmouth.
Their god-daughter, Natalie Truelove, from Kent, is the team liaison officer for the USA team.
‘There’s a lot of links between the navy and the American navy,’ said Mr Burton. ‘It’s nice that America are based here.’
The ceremony finished with a compelling performance from the Royal Military Band.
Afterwards the team posed for pictures by HMS Victory.
England’s campaign begins at Twickenham on Friday, September 18 when the team takes on Fiji. Kick-off is at 8pm.
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