Another All Black mum caught in Rugby World Cup chaos

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

John Afoa's mum missed the first half of the opening match stuck in a train. Photo / Getty Images
John Afoa's mum missed the first half of the opening match stuck in a train. Photo / Getty Images

The mum of an All Black has spoken of her distress at being trapped in the public transport chaos of the Rugby World Cup opening night and missing the first half of the match.

Supermarket night manager Shirley Afoa was given tickets to the opening night and match by her son John as a special treat. It is the only game she will be able to make because of work commitments.

"That's why this one was so important," Afoa said. "It was devastating. When we got there, the excitement had left. We sat there but we didn't enjoy the last half."

She is one of thousands angry at the opening night transport debacle, even though Auckland Mayor Len Brown had urged fans to rely on public transport.

Yesterday Brown promised compensation for the estimated 2000 people who missed out, including Afoa and her companions.

Afoa boarded the 5.09pm train bound from Papakura with her grandson Sean, 13, and Marilyn Reid, the mother of All Black Kieran Reid.

The small group did not get to Eden Park about 20km away until the second half because the train ground to a halt just before Newmarket. Afoa said the three were trapped in the crammed carriage for two hours.

"We had no idea what was going on," she said. "There was no communication, we didn't see any conductors. People were ringing the transport number and got a different story each time.

"People were very hot and tired. Some people were almost passing out.

"Children were crying. People needed to go to the bathroom. The train was overcrowded."

Afoa said she was most angry at the lack of communication. The trip home was also shocking. Her and her grandson eventually got a bus through a back route to Papakura and arrived home at 12.45am.

The issue also emerged at the All Black press conference yesterday when half back Piri Weepu described it as "pretty stink". "A lot of people missed the game or missed the opening ceremony."

Brown yesterday said the trains were "not satisfactory at all" and improvements in reliability and communication were needed. He also offered a personal explanation for taking his car after campaigning for election on public transport.

He said he had to be at Eden Park "with the Prime Minister, all the Pacific leaders and hosting, as Aucklanders want me to do, the leaders of this nation and outside nations".

"I needed some flexibility. But I'll be taking the train in future."

Those affected have questioned how crowd estimates could be so wrong.

An Auckland Council advisory last week predicted a maximum of 50,000 people at the downtown Auckland party area.

Brown said 200,000 had turned up and he had personally expected about 150,000."

Inspector Gary Allcock said police did not expect the numbers and there were not enough officers to cope.

"Obviously we would have liked more but they did jolly well with what they had."

About 60 people were arrested at the waterfront and one person at Eden Park.

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully said: "Auckland's public transport system failed to deliver to the required standard. "

Overcrowding at Auckland City Hospital forced ambulances to divert to other Auckland hospitals.

St John medical director Tony Smith said: "None of us have had a night like it."

He said the ambulance staff were dealing with "a large number of of very intoxicated people and a large number of seriously injured from assaults".

Smith said at 10.30pm he spoke to hospitals across the city and "between us we decided to spread across all three hospitals".

Lifeguards in boats rescued people desperate to escape the crush at Queen's Wharf.

- additional reporting by Joanne Carroll and John Weekes

- Herald on Sunday

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