It was more like a night at the Proms than dour ceremony when the England rugby team were officially welcomed by hundreds of vocal supporters in Dunedin yesterday.
A well-received haka powhiri was returned in kind with an impassioned version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot to the delight of the large audience - many of whom wore and waved the red-and-white colours of their home country.
The more than 50 players and support crew of the England team, wearing navy suits with red ties, watched, filmed and clapped to Scottish dancing and a Chinese Lion dance, in a nod to the host city's heritage.
England rugby coach and former World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson said this cup started with the team's arrival in Dunedin, and the city's new stadium was "incredibly impressive".
"Thanks a lot for that welcome, an extraordinary warm welcome ... [it] took our breath away to come in here and see so many people."
In their first two days players had worn sunglasses and suncream rather than the thermals they had packed.
The vocal English fans were singled out by British High Commissioner Victoria Treadell, who joked, "Please don't get into trouble, but if you do ...
the British High Commission is here to help you."
She hoped the England team would be joined in the final by "that team that has the black strip".
England captain Lewis Moody began his speech with a "kia ora" and apologised to local dignitaries for "dropping a few headbutts in there while attempting a hongi".
"But rugby is a contact sport so I am sure it will be fine."
He said it was humbling to be in such a rugby town, and the team were looking forward to this Saturday's encounter with Argentina.
- Otago Daily Times