09 Sep 2011
Today (9.9.2011) is the day that New Zealand has been waiting a long time for – the flags are flying, the fans are in town, and Rugby World Cup is ready to roll.
Flags have been a big seller this week, with downtown Auckland retailers finding it hard to keep up with demand and New Zealand’s 2011 office reporting that it has completely sold out of 570,000m of flag bunting.
Out and about in Auckland, under a clear sunny sky, a haka group was making flash mob appearances to crowds of visitors and locals – many sporting national colours and already in party mode.
Near Eden Park – the scene of tonight’s opening match between the All Blacks and Tonga – a Tongan family was busy painting their house red in support of their home team who’ll have the backing of Auckland’s big Tongan population.
And, there’s a giant rugby ball parked down on Queen’s Wharf, marking the spot where Auckland will gather to celebrate Rugby World Cup and the REAL New Zealand Festival.
RWC party time
The seventh Rugby World Cup kicks off simultaneously tonight with an opening ceremony at Eden Park and a massive public party on the Auckland waterfront.
Official celebrations – which will include a fleet of Māori waka / canoes, a mass haka and the biggest fireworks display that New Zealand has ever seen – begin at Queens Wharf at 4pm, and run until the opening ceremony at Eden Park at 7.30pm.
Spectators who previewed the opening ceremony dress rehearsal earlier this week have described it as beautiful and impressive with an emphasis on Māori culture interwoven into the tale of a young boy and rugby.
The fireworks will explode over the harbour at 8pm, before the All Blacks take on Tonga.
Maui Potiki – the group of young Māori leaders from around the country who were responsible for stopping central city traffic this morning – have become a YouTube sensation over the past week with more than 750,000 views of their original flash-mob haka.
Participant, 23-year-old Anthony Cowley, said he was proud of his culture and enjoyed the opportunity to show it off.
“It just feels honestly great. It feels really awesome to see everyone here in Auckland to see what we’re about and just represent New Zealand - Aotearoa.”
It has been a busy week at New Zealand airports with 19 visiting rugby teams arriving to a series of colourful powhiri / welcome ceremonies and haka.
After arriving in Blenheim – in the Marlborough wine region – Russian team captain Vladislav Korshunov said “it feels like we landed on a different planet … it’s so beautiful.
“Another astonishing welcome ceremony had been arranged for us. I’m not exaggerating! The whole city had come to greet us – with flags, placards … just imagine, we – the World Cup debutants, not known to anybody before. And we were greeted like kings.
In Queenstown, the airport was a sea of green chanting supporters to welcome the Irish team. Back rower Stephen Ferris tweeted: “Awesome to finally be here in New Zealand – and what a welcome at Queenstown Airport.”
Reigning RWC champions – the Springboks were also welcomed on Wellington’s waterfront by crowds of cheering fans as the team left its hotel to walk to the Wharewaka / waka house for their official welcome.
Many of the teams have been seen out and about enjoying some pre-match relaxation – including the England team which went sailing on an America’s Cup yacht on the Hauraki Gulf.
In the provincial North Island city of Wanganui, thousands of cheering locals turned out to watch the US Eagles rugby team paddle down the Whanganui River on Māori waka / canoes, accompanied by traditionally dressed Māori warriors.
Background: Rugby World Cup 2011
Rugby World Cup 2011 will be the biggest ever international event held in New Zealand.
Rugby World Cup 2011 is being held in New Zealand for the first time since the inaugural event in 1987.
Teams representing 20 nations will compete in 48 matches across 12 host cities between 9 September and 23 October 2011. The final will be held at Auckland’s historic Eden Park.
Some 95,000 visitors are expected in New Zealand for the tournament.