Rugby stars to mix ambassadorial role with matches in NZ
IT won't all be hard hits on the pitch and whitewater rafting off it for the Irish rugby team at next month's World Cup.
The squad, led by captain Brian O'Driscoll, will act as unofficial ambassadors for Ireland in a series of community events around New Zealand during the competition.
Along with going on scenic helicopter rides, whitewater rafting and soaking in volcanic hot springs, the 30-member squad will also meet and greet locals in 13 community events in each of the six host cities they'll be visiting during the competition.
After being given a traditional Maori welcome by some 200 schoolchildren when they arrive at Queenstown Airport a week from today, fans will get to see the team during a two-hour open training session on September 4, followed by a civic reception in their honour.
Four players and two coaches will also give 20 aspiring young footballers a private coaching session at a local school in New Plymouth the following week, followed by visits to local schoolchildren in Dunedin.
The massive contingent of ex-patriot Irish supporters living in New Zealand and Australia will also get a chance to meet their heroes during an hour-long greeting session at the team hotel in Taupo on September 20.
Team spokesman Karl Richardson said he was taken aback at media reports out of New Zealand yesterday claiming that the Irish squad had snubbed the local community in Queenstown.
Queenstown Lakes District Council RWC co-ordinator Jono Sutherland said he asked the IRFU "to do a lot more" than attending the civic reception it is hosting in the team's honour upon their arrival in New Zealand.
However, Mr Richardson said: "While of course there was great interest and demand, and we have built in quite a comprehensive community programme, it was just not possible to meet all the requests."