Huge turnout to welcome All Blacks

By Roger Moroney

All Blacks Julian Savea (right) and Ma'a Nonu are given a Bay welcome at the Hawke's Bay Airport on Saturday. Photo / Paul Taylor
All Blacks Julian Savea (right) and Ma'a Nonu are given a Bay welcome at the Hawke's Bay Airport on Saturday. Photo / Paul Taylor

Hawke's Bay Airport turned into Hawke's Bay rugby central at the weekend - with the region turning into the rugby capital.

On Saturday night the Ranfurly Shield-bearing Magpies arrived to a huge welcome and yesterday, just after 10am, the All Blacks put the icing on the cake.

It was clear the turnout to welcome Richie McCaw's seemingly invincible lads was expected to be a huge one, despite the drizzling weather, as police set up traffic control points at the airport exit and along SH2 to the turn-off into Westshore.

It was a good move as people streamed into the parking areas, which were rendered free for the occasion, and by the time the first of the two flights carrying the All Blacks squad touched down about 1000 people had crammed into the terminal - taking up every available spot.

The temporary barriers set up to create the walkway for the All Blacks to walk though, to their waiting luggage and bus, was lined six or seven deep.

A banner was set in place declaring 'After 18 long years welcome back to Hawke's Bay' - the last time the All Blacks played at McLean Park was in 1996 against Samoa.

Among the crowd was New Zealand Rugby Union president and former Magpies and All Blacks player Ian MacRae.

He was delighted to see the Shield return and equally delighted to be there to welcome the All Blacks.

"This is great for Hawke's Bay," Mr MacRae said.

"It is going to be a big rugby week here."

After the rest of the passengers had got off the All Blacks assembled on the tarmac.

They were spotted and the cries of recognition started going up.

"There's Richie! - there's Conrad Smith! - there's Ma-a Nonu! - there's Kieran Read!" The players could hear the shouts and cheers from 40m away.

Richie McCaw appropriately led the way and before entering the terminal was presented with a Maori ceremonial cloak by Maori Warden Zita Smith.

The team followed their skipper in and the gathering erupted.

The challenge was laid down for Mr McCaw as part of a spectacular wero of welcome staged by Te Whanau Whanui o Ahuriri Manawhenua.

Napier Mayor Bill Dalton then spoke and suggested that after playing at McLean Park this coming Saturday night he was sure the New Zealand Rugby Union would class it right up there as the national team's most preferred venue.

Also on hand to say "welcome to the Bay" were Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, Central Hawke's Bay Mayor Peter Butler and Wairoa Mayor Craig Little

After a powhiri and waiata the players made their way along the walkway stretch, several stopping to give autographs and pose for the inevitable 'selfies'.

Mr McCaw was smartly through the crowd though, giving a few handshakes and high-fives along the way.

It was all done and dusted within 20 minutes.

The only downside to the massive turnout and constant pushing and shuffling to get a good spot was that passengers set to depart on flights could not get to the exit door until airport staff managed to clear a way.

"It's okay, we won't go without you," one told a worried woman hemmed in by All Blacks supporters.

Peter Smith from Auckland saw the funny and positive side.

"I've always enjoyed the All Blacks' disruptive tactics," he said.

"But it's great to come across them like this - nice way to end the weekend."

Today the All Blacks will be taking part in what is described as a "free and fun-filled" show being hosted by Small Blacks television host Nua Finau and Random Rugby host Makere Bradnam. It is taking place at the Municipal Theatre at 4.30pm. It is the only public outing planned at this stage, with training sessions taking the lion's share of the AB's time heading into Saturday's test.

**Buy tickets**

Jay Campbell at Hawke's Bay Rugby Union said there were about 900 tickets left. "They can be bought through the union's office at McLean Park," and, at the same time, people could get a ticket to the first shield challenge game against Otago on September 14

- Hawkes Bay Today

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