New zeal and passion as NZ gets away in a haka
Millions tune in to watch spectacular RWC opening ceremony in Auckland
New Zealanders put behind them 12 months of despair caused by a devastating earthquake, a mine explosion and a struggling economy to begin a six-week party as the All Blacks beat Tonga 41-10 in the opening match of the Rugby World Cup yesterday.
Tens of thousands thronged the streets of Auckland, with millions more in pubs, open-air venues and front rooms around the rugby-mad country to celebrate the opening of the seventh global showcase of the sport.
Fans, including many in Irish jerseys, proudly waved their flags and traded good-natured banter with fellow supporters from around the world at the main venue in Auckland.
The spectacular opening ceremony only served to add to the party atmosphere. More than 60,000 fans at the Eden Park stadium then greeted the worldwide television audience with a glittering sea of mobile phones and cameras as a solo voice sang a haunting karanga, or welcome, in the darkness.
This World Cup is already delivering a new addition to the New Zealand lexicon: the flash mob haka. Dozens of performers of the traditional Maori war dance wowed crowds as New Zealanders shed their reserved image by transforming Auckland into a party zone with a distinctly Pacific feel.
So many people lined up to get on to Queen's Wharf on the Auckland harbour front to join the celebrations that authorities were forced to start turning them away within 30 minutes of it opening, when it hit a capacity crowd of 12,000.
"It's an amazing day for it, we are so lucky," Auckland Mayor Len Brown said. "It's going to be a brilliant World Cup."
The opening ceremony featured a stylised sequence in which a young boy in a rugby jersey smashed through crowds of would-be tacklers who fell at his feet like skittles.
The ceremony paid tribute to Maori creation myths, New Zealand's spectacular scenery and Auckland's obsession with sailing with dreamlike sea sequences.
It was spectacular compared with the low-budget opener featuring marching girls which was hastily put together for the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, which New Zealand also hosted.