Te Puna set to celebrate French past

By Ellen Irvine

Sacre bleu - while the French are our enemies on the field tonight, tomorrow will be about friendship as Te Puna welcomes a huge French contingent.

Fresh from a night of celebration or commiseration at Eden Park, up to 100 French visitors will arrive in Tauranga at 11am for a day of sport and culture hosted by Te Puna Rugby Club.

Club promotions manager Tommy "Kapai" Wilson said the club hoped to celebrate the area's French links and set up a long-term connection with a sister rugby club in France.

"The [French] supporters and a lot of people connected to the very high end of French rugby are coming.

"We have 35 forestry owners from the Toulouse and South of France area, where rugby is played over there.

"It's never happened before that we have French people coming back to Te Puna, it's a wonderful opportunity on the back of the French game the night before. We are celebrating our French heritage."<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Te Puna's French links date back to the 1850s, when Frenchmen Emile Joseph Borell and Louis Bidois came from Normandy to live in the area.

Visitors to the club will be offered gourmet hangi, seafood and local wine and will be treated to kapa haka performances. Te Puna's French history will also be celebrated, as visitors are shown the 100-warrior waka and a church built by French missionaries.

Helping with the cooking will be Mr Wilson's brother, chef Stephen Wilson, who recently returned to the Bay after 28 years living Paris.

The event has already caught the eye of French print and television media in New Zealand for the tournament.

"We will never get a chance to have this many people and this much media from France here to capitalise on what we are doing.

"We are thinking long-term - let's form some relationships to have a sister rugby club in France, where we can send our players every year and they can send their's here."

The club will be decked out for the occasion with a French-Maori flag designed by Mr Wilson and decorations including an imitation Eiffel Tower.

Mr Wilson said the visit by French forestry executives was a "door opener".

Te Puna is one of about 3000 domestic members of the Government's New Zealand 2011 business club programme which matches firms here with counterparts from overseas for the World Cup.

About 260 French supporters passed through Tauranga on Thursday as part of a Rugby World Cup tour organised by French travel company Couleur Voyages - the country's official RWC 2011 travel company.

The company will bring another contingent on Monday and a final group will pass through on October 17.

Viva la France for fans in exile

 It's "Sweet as" vs "Ooh la la" in Tauranga tonight as the Western Bay's French community gather to watch the All Blacks play their Rugby World Cup nemesis team, France.

Many of the region's French community are expected to gather at Nautilus restaurant, where patriotic restaurateur Maurice Mourali has brought in a big screen especially for the occasion.

"It's a special night.

"We are supporting France, and all the French community are coming with the flags and champagne and pastis to celebrate, we will sing the French anthem."

A large crowd is expected, with people travelling from as far away as Auckland for the occasion.

Mr Mourali has been in New Zealand for six years and supports the All Blacks against any other team than France.

But tonight, he's picking Les Bleus to romp home with 32 points over the All Blacks 22.

"They are very strong this year," he said of the French team.

From Toulouse in the south of France, Mr Mourali has always been a rugby fan rather than football, which is more popular in France.

While there will be no doubt who Mr Mourali is supporting thanks to his French rugby jersey and beret, the food will be bicultural.

Expect pork canapes representing the French, and whitebait fritters for New Zealand.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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