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Published: October 22nd 2011
You'd need to have had your head buried deep in the sand for the last six years to not know what was about to happen that evening. But taking a wander through the Auckland CBD on the afternoon of 9th September you'd have soon worked out that it was a bit more than just an early NYE party.
And if somehow you only knew that the event was on around about this time, given the way fans were celebrating, you might even have thought that it was all done and dusted - and every team had won the final. In a matter of hours the seventh Rugby World Cup would be underway, and this year it had come back to where it all started 24 years ago. This was something the country had been waiting for since the announcement six years earlier that Rugby World Cup 2011 was to be held in New Zealand - the home of more than just Hobbiton, bungy jumping and The World’s Fastest Indian.
It’s not every year that 19 of the best opponents the world can offer turn up in your backyard to take on your team in the country’s national sport. Admittedly,
we do have a pretty big stadium - holding 4 million plus people in fact. Add to this the influx of rugby diehards and general tourists who decided that a World Cup was just another reason to come down, and you start to get the picture.
With the increase in publicity the event received during the final year, it increasingly infiltrated general conversations. Still, there are still plenty of other reasons to be here. In a conversation a friend and I had with a random Japanese snowboarder at Mt Hutt one weekend, we asked if he had come for the World Cup and would he be supporting the Japanese rugby team? “No, I am not so interested in rugby, I came for snowboarding - so I will cheer for the All Blacks.” Nice. Miho, (a Japanese lady I sat next to for the Japan v Canada game) on the other hand, is a rugby nut - and had arranged the timing of her working holiday in New Zealand around making sure she would be in Auckland during the tournament - now that’s dedication.
After all the buildup, when the teams themselves finally started to arrive it all became that
much more real. The prize for best supporter turnout at the airport would easily go to the Tongan team, whose nearly seven thousand strong welcoming committee caused chaos at the airport.
Along with many times more than the number that were going to be successful, I had added my application for pool tickets, missing out on the All Blacks v Japan game, but managing to score a ticket for Japan v France. As it turned out, I was never meant to use that world cup ticket - and in fact twice gave one up. The first time, to go with a group from work. The second time I gave up my chance to see Japan take on France was for an opportunity which had its beginnings when I applied for a position on the volunteer programme being run by Rugby New Zealand 2011, organisers of the tournament. Though not my first choice, being assigned to the Transport section seems to have been something which was just meant to be. From the huge number of Transport volunteers in Auckland three were selected for each of the 13 teams scheduled to play games in the region. Their job would be to drive
support vehicles for their assigned team both on training days and match day, and as part of the unfolding ‘You Never Know’ story, yours truly was assigned to Team Japan. What had started as being pretty happy I had even got my hands on a game ticket, ended up as an almost daily trip to the team base for the couple of weeks that they were based in north Auckland. Being able to attend closed training sessions, watch the Captain’s Run, and drive to games in a police escort convoy with fans cheering roadside was great, yet it was the privilege of meeting and working with such a professional yet friendly group of people that will be what I value most of my time with Team Japan.
After Team Japan moved on from Auckland I continued on the volunteer programme, in a similar role but doing one-off jobs rather than a set assignment.
Yes, life has been pretty crazy for the last couple of months, but I’ve met amazing people and had experiences money couldn’t buy. You just never know….
Rugby World Cup 2011: More Colour, Passion and Opportunity Rugby World Cup 2011: All Blacks' Return to Rugby Heaven
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