Despite public transport hiccups, Auckland put together an impressive inaugural ceremony for Rugby World Cup 2011 on September 9 at Eden Park.
Amidst a plethora of flags greeting the All Blacks (New Zealand) and Ikale Tahi (Tonga), 60,000 people watched the proceedings at the Stadium, while more than 300 million worldwide were glued to the television.
About 5000 performers, most of them Maori, took part in the opening ceremony, held under the theme, ‘The Journey,’ culminating in spectacular fireworks.
Images of rugby history were projected at the Stadium, including a huge roll of honour depicting the names of the highest scorers from each nation in their World Cup histories accompanied by a performance of the RWC anthem World in Union.
And, as always in anything that is rugby in New Zealand, it culminated in a massive, intense and passionate haka, devised with the input of Maori throughout New Zealand and performed in tandem with the fireworks display to bring the ceremony to a thrilling end.
Auckland’s Central Business District was packed with 100,000 people to celebrate the biggest sporting event in New Zealand’s history.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key welcomed players, coaches, officials of various teams and international visitors on behalf of New Zealanders, while International Rugby Board Chairman Bernard Lapasset declared the Games open.
The Opening Match (Pool A) played between the All Blacks and Ikale Tahi was thrilling. All Blacks took the match beating the Tongans 41 to 10.
As experts mentioned, the result was all but sealed by half-time thanks to full back Israel Dagg and wing Richard Kahui each crossing for two tries.
Cheered on by their rapturous support at Eden Park, the Tongans tore into the All Blacks from the whistle, but the defence held firm, and it was not long before New Zealand conjured some attacks of their own.
Fly half Dan Carter, who opened the scoring with an early penalty, was soon orchestrating his backline with aplomb, and centre Sonny Bill Williams increasingly came into the game with some deft offloads.
Tonga found some resilience after the break and their aggressive tackling thwarted the All Blacks’ continued raids on their line. Isaia Toeava went close for the All Blacks but the video referee ruled he had been tackled into touch.
Eventually the New Zealand pressure told and in the 59th minute Kahui re-gathered his own kick to put flanker Jerome Kaino in for his fifth international try.
Tonga’s replacement prop Alisona Taumalolo scored a consolation try for Tonga near the end – only their second-ever try against New Zealand.
The Sea Eagles’ fly half Kurt Morath, who had kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time, added the conversion.
The final word went to All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu, who ran strongly all matches and crossed under the posts to seal the match, and Piri Weepu added the extras after Dan Carter was substituted.
Fiji kicked off its world cup campaign with convincing win over minnows Namibia beating them 49-25. Fiji 7’s team star Vereniki Goneva scored a hat trick in the first half and added another in the second half to claim the man of the match award.
In other matches, defending champions Springboks won by a point beating the Welsh team 17-16. Australia 32- Italy 6, Ireland 22 US 10, England 13 Argentina 9, France 47 Japan 21, Scotland 34 Romania 24.
Sanjesh Narain is Radio Tarana Reporter based in Auckland.