Tauranga fans show support for All Blacks

By Genevieve Helliwell

Thousands of rugby fans showed support for our national team when the official All Blacks fan club spent time in Tauranga yesterday.

The Telecom Backing Black campaign rolled into Wharepai Domain amid clear skies and plenty of support from locals.

Five giant inflatable rugby games towered metres into the sky and kept revellers, young and old, entertained all afternoon. The bungy game was a favourite for many, where fans were connected to a cord and had to run against the pressure and score a try, while competing against another person.

Five-year-old Dominic Wells tried his luck at the bungy. He said the activity was "lots of fun".

Brookfield's Tamsyn Harawira, 8, also had a turn on some of the activities. Tamsyn's mother, Fleur, said the Backing Black campaign was a novel idea and something Tauranga desperately needed. "This is just awesome for Tauranga and it's just what we needed. We came straight after school and so far we've had a really good time."

While some enjoyed playing on the activities, others were able to send text and video messages to the All Blacks via cellphones connected in a decked-out van.

One of the stand-out activities of the Backing Black event was a large inflatable tent which housed a unusual photographic booth. Inside the tent revellers could have their photo taken with a group of All Blacks, using the latest in virtual reality technology. Mrs Harawira and Tamsyn got face to face with Kevin Mealamu, Ali Williams, Richard Kahui and more, when the players appeared out of thin air and stood beside them in the photograph.

Telecom representative Nicola Tweddell said this was the latest in Augmented Reality (AR) technology and most guests were shocked with what they saw.

"They step up to the line and suddenly these All Blacks appear out of nowhere. It's great seeing the smiles on people's faces," she said. The AR technology offered a selection of 12 options where guests could choose to pose alongside their idols.

The digitally enhanced images will be processed online and available for free, which Ms Tweddell said was something a lot of people commented on.

"Telecom has access to all these really impressive technologies and we're able to use these new technologies to bring people closer to the All Blacks than what they ever thought possible," she said. "We're really happy to be able to do this for people. We have the technology, we're able to do it when a lot of other people can't do it. It's been a really great day."

The support from Tauranga locals had exceeded her expectation.

"The weather has really turned it on for us today and the day has really come alive. It's great for the fans to get up close with Liam and Tanerau and the support from people has just been great," Ms Tweddell said.

"Looking back on a day like today, it makes me really proud to be able to bring this event together for the people around New Zealand... and the fact that it's free has made it a huge bonus for people."

Backing Black is the official All Blacks fan club and is touring the country through September and October. Former All Blacks Liam Messam and Tanerau Latimer joined in the celebration. Mr Messam, who will attend four Backing Black events, said the celebration in Tauranga had been outstanding.

"This is really good for the kids, that's the whole point of this all, it's for the kids and the fans," he said. "I think today is awesome and I'm having a great time."

As the event came to an end, guests were treated to a powerful performance from Tauranga Intermediate Kapa Haka group.

Meanwhile, members of the Blow The Whistle campaign attended the day celebration. Mr Messam is the national ambassador for the campaign, which is raising the awareness around family violence. Project co-ordinator Raewyn Mortensen said the campaign was targeted throughout the RWC when many people would be supporting the All Blacks and other national teams. The campaign began in Tauranga in 2007.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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