Peter Bills writes that a warm, generous welcome will reward New Zealand for years to come.
They might have been a silent lot, the kind all airlines dream about. The passengers on board Qantas flight 43 from Sydney to Auckland on Monday afternoon did not display the sort of notorious antics which we rugby men have known on myriad flights across the globe these past years.
Unlike the return flight to London one year from the Hong Kong Sevens. As we levelled off after take-off from somewhere in the Middle East, a rather well-known former England international with a flushed face stood up, took a sip from a line of drinks he had amassed and which, in no particular order, included champagne, white wine, red wine, port and brandy, and announced "If this goes down, boys, we have had our fill." Well, we all drank to that. As you do.
But the planeload of travellers crossing the Tasman this week were a more circumspect bunch. Perhaps they were pondering just what they can expect from New Zealand at this month's Rugby World Cup.
A fleecing from the rip-off merchants, a few of whom I pointed out last year on my visit here for the Tri-Nations tournament?
Or maybe they will uncover a place just content to extract the maximum financial advantage from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and then retreat into the quiet world that this land's geographical isolation invites.
Perhaps, too, some resent taxpayers' money being spent on a rugby event at the height of a world recession.
The fact is, all three emotions would be wrong, quite inappropriate.
New Zealand is not the land it was, certainly not the secluded, hidden away location I first visited in 1975. My parents had been a year or two earlier. "It is like England before World War II," they chorused.
Much of New Zealand was like a closed country in those days, a strangely introverted place. Today's offspring is brash, bright, so much more challenging and confident, not to say interesting. It offers excellence in many fields; horticulture, oenology, literature, food, theatre and music, to mention just a few.
It goes without saying that sport remains omnipresent in this land, as integral a part of the national psyche to some as a beer in an Australian's hand. But many in New Zealand have grown up. Sport is no longer their only interest. Indeed, some of my friends insist the world's raging economic recession and the contagion it has spread to all corners of the globe will continue to assume far greater importance than this Rugby World Cup, no matter what the outcome.
In a way, that is to be welcomed. A nation in which parameters begin and end with its national rugby team invites ridicule for such a blinkered existence. If the great legacy handed down by so many who achieved outstanding success on New Zealand's behalf, the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg, is to be truly honoured, national pride should never reverberate solely around a sporting activity.
But another element denotes true maturity among a people. And that quality is vision.
Those who can see beyond the immediate and peruse a horizon far away, hitherto not yet glimpsed by most, invariably profit from their foresight. Taking the long view, adopting a stance and philosophy that it is the next 10 to 20 years that will really count and define that individual or his land, not the immediate or even the next six weeks or six months, is the hallmark of a really mature mind.
New Zealand in this week, the start of the Rugby World Cup, has a glorious opportunity to sow seeds that will continue to flourish for 20 years or more. If the tens of thousands of visitors who will flock here enjoy an experience without parallel, then the nation will reap a rich harvest.
If they depart for every corner of the globe carrying a message of a beautiful land, a warm, friendly people whose company is to be enjoyed and revered, then the true success of this event should not be gauged by which nation holds up the Webb Ellis trophy at the end, but the long-term value accrued by the host nation. So why wouldn't it be a straightforward task?
Excessive greed, a widely shared rapacious attitude that seeks to fleece every visitor for just about every moment he is in the place, could undo all that potential. If, amid a raging world recession, visitors cringe at individual or corporate acts of extortion, then one of the greatest opportunities ever presented to this country will have been squandered on the back of short-term profit. Should that prove to be the case, then you will be able to blame no one but yourselves.
The alternative should be an altogether more alluring scenario. Offer all-comers a wondrously warm welcome from ordinary Kiwis, proud of their country and anxious to show those in the world who have not yet been here just why their hospitality can be unique.
Peter Bills is a rugby writer for Independent News & Media.By Peter Bills Email Peter