By Analiese Jackson
On Thursday night, the day before the opening ceremony, I arrived in Auckland to find the entire city abuzz with excitement.
Driving through the suburbs, it’s obvious to see that people are really embracing being the main host city of the RWC: houses are decorated with their respective teams’ colours (sometimes with multiple flags if households allegiances are divided) and decorations are proudly on display.
I’ve never seen Auckland this excited about a sporting event; not even the hype of winning the America’s Cup can compare.
Party Central looks phenomenal. Even the temporary building affectionately known as The Cloud (or ‘the slug’, as it’s referred to by some of its detractors) looks impressive. Auckland is ready for the opening ceremony, and so am I.
By Friday, Party Central is absolutely packed. Thousands of people have queued throughout the day to gain access to this exclusive waterfront party, but only 12,000 would find themselves in The Cloud.
A friend of mine who left work at 3pm “queues” for hours to get into party central (‘queue’ apparently means forming some sort of scrum to get through the entrance).
He’s one of the lucky ones; it was said by Auckland’s Mayor that up to 200,000 people queued over the course of the day to get a spot on the waterfront.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Auckland, the bus is an hour late, and there’s a small congregation of anxious rugby fans (myself included) waiting for its arrival.
Despite its environmentally friendly public image, New Zealand has never been known for efficient public transportation. It’s not that we don’t want to catch it. It’s just that nobody with authority seems to want to build it, which means that our country’s next passion, after rugby, is cars.
What’s quite spectacular though is that us Kiwis have managed to combine our two loves: the roads are a sea of colour as cars are adorned with Rugby World Cup paraphernalia. Flag dealers in New Zealand must be rubbing their hands with glee, as some cars have up to eight flags streaming from their aerials.
So, with our love of automobiles in mind, you can imagine what a surprise it was when we were told by Rugby World Cup organisers that they’d appreciate it if people tried to avoid driving cars at all costs but that there’d be plenty of buses and trains on match day. We were skeptical, and our cynicism proved to be right when it turned out that nearly 2000 people (including two of the All Black’s mums) missed out on the Opening Ceremony because the trains broke down on the way to the stadium.
Thankfully though, our bus does eventually turn up, and the four of us make it to Eden Park with plenty of time to spare.
Those people who didn’t manage to secure tickets to the opening ceremony, who didn’t manage to get one of those coveted 12,000 places on the waterfront, or who weren’t trapped in malfunctioning public transportation didn’t let it get in the way of celebrating the opening night.
There are hundreds of people dressed up in their respective teams colours around the stadium, singing, chanting and dancing. Some local residents are sitting out in their front yards, drinking a beer and watching the spectacle.
Back at the stadium, my dad, my uncles and I have managed to find our seats, buy our Rugby World Cup approved beers (which they pre-open for you, just in case you’re thinking about trying to smuggle out a commemorative lager) and we’re sitting, waiting, for the Opening ceremony to begin.
We’re told that, in order to get some audience participation going, we’re all going to be crucial to the first few opening seconds of the live, international coverage, and that the entire stadium must simultaneously flash the screens of our phones in order to make the stadium look like it has a beating heart The entire stadium pulsates with light, and the opening ceremony commences.
The opening ceremony doesn’t disappoint. From the opening karanga to the Kapa Haka group which leaves the audience spellbound, the ceremony showcases some of the best that New Zealand has to offer.
Rugby fans are ecstatic when New Zealand Rugby great Jonah Lomu, dressed in what can only be described as a pimp suit, emerges and tells the young star of the show to ‘Do it for Christchurch’. By the time the performers finish the pacific inspired rendition of the official World Cup song, World in Union, the crowd is whipped into an absolute frenzy.
If only the game that followed showed that the All Blacks had the same sort of momentum….
- Analiese is a freelance writer and journalist based in New Zealand.