Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

RWC: Cup buzz has begun - enjoy the festival

Tournament boss tells fans to set aside tragedies and join the fun. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Tournament boss tells fans to set aside tragedies and join the fun. Photo / Brett Phibbs

We are ready to host the Rugby World Cup, says Martin Snedden - the man responsible for running the tournament.

Mr Snedden, the Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive, said a buzz around the tournament was finally here.

"In lots of ways I wish it was starting tomorrow. But it will be here soon enough. And we are prepared."

He said the country had suffered a lot since the heady days of winning the bid to host the tournament in Dublin in 2005. Hosting the cup would lift New Zealand after the global economic downturn and the Christchurch earthquakes and Pike River mine explosions.

"I think the time has come for people to take a bit of time out from dealing with all those issues, and just let themselves go and enjoy the moment. That's something I think isn't yet fully understood, just how much fun we're going to have."

Mr Snedden was speaking at the finale of a roadshow that drew more than 20,000 people to Auckland's Viaduct Harbour yesterday.

Rugby fans of all ages flocked to the roadshow and in some centres people lined up at 6.15am for a chance to see the Webb Ellis trophy.

Mr Snedden said this weekend's Bledisloe Cup test match between the Wallabies and the All Blacks, with an expected crowd of about 40,000, would be a chance to test their preparedness.

The match will be the first test for how the new temporary seating on the East and West stands copes with crowds.

Team and VIP transport to the ground will also be monitored, as well as the IT system that will service a large contingent of international media during the cup.

Organisers would not provide details of risk planning, but confirmed it would be an area of interest on Saturday night.

So far, more than one million of the 1.6 million tournament tickets available have sold, or three-quarters of organisers' target of 1.35 million.

The shifting of Christchurch's matches after the earthquakes had been a major blow to ticket sales, but Mr Snedden said he was still confident of reaching their target.

"Once people see the tournament start, once they see the opening ceremony, the opening match - there will be strong ticket sales right through the tournament."

Another issue that has dogged the buildup to the tournament has been allegations that some local businesses have been price gouging, and International Rugby Board chief Mike Miller has recently admitted concern about that.

Mr Snedden said yesterday that he did not believe price gouging would be a major issue. He realised some businesses banked on an "economic shot in the arm" from the cup, but any price increases had to be reasonable.

Analysis of ticket sales indicated many of the estimated 85,000 overseas visitors would travel outside of the major cities, where prices would be lower, he said.

Yesterday's roadshow was an opportunity for fans to get into the spirit of the tournament and this is exactly what the Paaka family did.

Craig and Dorothy Paaka brought their 4-year-old son, Pateriki, and 2-year-old daughter, Loimata - each decked out in a tiny All Black jersey - to see the Webb Ellis trophy.

Mr Paaka said Pateriki was carried around the last World Cup in France in his baby carrier, but was yet to understand his country's tortured relationship with the tournament.

"It will be something that will be told to them over the fireside if we lose again."

The Paakas have decided to adopt Russia as a team and will travel to Rotorua, New Plymouth and Nelson to support them.

Mr Paaka said they also had tickets to the All Blacks versus Japan game in Hamilton, but "none of the big games - they cost too many nappies".

- NZ Herald

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