'Unfair' pass tests royal visitor

By Beck Vass, Rachel Tiffen

Prince William throws a rugby ball around with some kids at Eden Park. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Prince William throws a rugby ball around with some kids at Eden Park. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Prince William's visit to Auckland's Eden Park gave him a few challenges yesterday as young rugby players put his ball skills to the test.

As he stood in a circle of 10- and 11-year-old boys, the prince caught a rugby ball shot towards him at head-height.

But then, while his hands were occupied up above, he was hit by another ball, this one aimed just below his waist.

The pass resulted in an "ooooh" from the crowd, mostly made up of international media and parents of the boys, who had until then been proudly watching their sons playing a game of barefoot bullrush with All Blacks including Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu.

But Prince William, an avid rugby fan, took the hit in his stride, and with a good-natured grin told the boys "that was just a bit unfair" before carrying on catching more.

The boys, from Pakuranga Rugby Club, later admitted they were "being cheeky" when they aimed the ball at the Prince.

Asked what they thought of the second-in-line to the throne, one boy said he was "pretty cool" and another said, "He's pretty chilled".

Another boy said the Prince was cheeky himself, telling them to kick the ball towards the rugby posts - where media from around the world were lined up taking photographs and filming him.

"He asked us to kick it over the post but he wanted us to hit the camera at the same time."

Prince William joined Prime Minister John Key, Auckland Mayor John Banks, Rugby World Cup and Eden Park redevelopment officials, chatting and discussing the stadium upgrade.

Dressed casually in a Rugby World Cup jersey with "Wales" printed on the back, the Prince appeared at ease with all he spoke to.

Auckland Rugby's club rugby manager, Matt McHardy, was among the small team who walked around the stadium with Prince William, with All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.

"[He was] down-to-earth and very pleasant and he fitted in well," Mr McHardy said.

"We saw him playing with the boys there - he did a fantastic job."

During the short tour, Prince William was told about the changes coming for the stadium, and sat in a seat so he could see what spectators would see when the games begin next year.

Dan Carter, who has met Prince William several times, said it was nice to see him in an informal setting.

"He's very humble and down-to-earth. It was a real honour meeting him."

Ali Williams said a few of the boys were going back to his house for a barbecue and he had invited the prince, but he was booked for a hangi at Government House.

"He said he'd love to but he had a prior engagement," said Williams.

Next on the royal schedule was a visit to Auckland's Viaduct where hundreds of people packed in for a glimpse of the prince aboard the Japanese Nippon Challenge 1995 America's Cup yacht.

As Elton John's Candle in the Wind - a version of which was a tribute to his mother, Princess Diana - blared from the Degree bar, fans jostled for a position around the railing or watched from balconies above.

For Britons Joyce and George Windsor, who emigrated to New Zealand 20 years ago, William was the final piece of the royal puzzle.

"We've seen each of the royals, but not him while he's been growing up," said Mrs Windsor.

The couple applauded New Zealand's allegiance to the monarchy and Mr Windsor laughed as he said, "I'd rather see him than John Key or Helen Clark".

Friends Amy Stewart and Katie Devonport, 19 and 18 from Rotorua and Napier, were thrilled to catch the royal visit.

"Just the fact that he's probably the most famous person in the entire world," said Ms Stewart.

But 12-year-old Megan Van Staden from Browns Bay hadn't done all of her homework.

"What does he look like?" she asked, while brother Alexander Van Staden, 7, kept an eye out for a "big limo".

With a packed media boat in tow the New Zealand America's Cup yacht NZL41 was off, a jovial Prince William calling out "You're taking on water" as the vessels came alongside each other.

Beaming broadly and seemingly at ease, he was briefed on safety procedure before setting sail.

Blue cap firmly on head, William was quickly amongst the action grinding, before taking the helm alongside America's Cup skipper Dean Barker.

Prince William is in Wellington today to open the new Supreme Court building.

He will also attend a wreath laying at the National War Memorial, a barbecue hosted by Mr Key at Premier House, and visit Wellington Children's Hospital.

- NZ Herald

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