World Cup brings out wackiness in the fans

By Michael Dickison

No prizes for guessing who these Aussie blokes are supporting during their week in New Zealand. Photo / Sarah Ivey
No prizes for guessing who these Aussie blokes are supporting during their week in New Zealand. Photo / Sarah Ivey

As Rugby World Cup matches kicked off all over the country at the weekend, supporters came from near and far to cheer on their teams.

Australian

Glen Bodger has lived in New Zealand for 30 years. But he isn't changing allegiances.

"Never, ever, ever," Mr Bodger said.

"We support Australia and whoever is playing the All Blacks."

Mr Bodger, who attended the game with fellow Australians Zoe O'Neill and Henry Boller, said Australia were "absolutely" winning the tournament.

"We've been over here 30 years but never called ourselves New Zealanders," Mr Bodger said.

He joked that they had been "sent by the Government to keep an eye on you people".

The trio would go to as many Wallabies games as they could during the tournament, he said.

Australian

Ben Flannagan, from New South Wales, and nine friends put on yellow afros and stormed North Harbour Stadium yesterday.

Their trip was a quick one - two matches at North Harbour Stadium over the weekend, then some snowboarding in Queenstown before heading home.

"We're doing our bit for the New Zealand economy," Mr Flannagan said.

They had wanted to go to Australia's clash with Ireland at Eden Park on Saturday, but could not get the tickets they wanted, he said.

Instead, they would cheer on Australia from back home.

Italian

Paulo Natalicchio and Frank Susca are living out of a van for the World Cup, chasing after the Italy team to show their support and have fun.

"We want to enjoy the whole country," Mr Natalicchio said.

They had already completed a month of touring the country, and were impressed by the organisation, he said.

"Everyone is really cool. We've just looked around New Zealand and could ask for nothing else."

Future destinations included Rotorua, Wellington, Nelson and Queenstown, Mr Natalicchio said.

They wanted to head to Christchurch and support the city because of all it had been through. Italy had experienced the tragedy of earthquakes and he said he could appreciate how terrible it was.

Back home, Mr Natalicchio is an architect and Mr Susca a fishing agent.

French

A group of French fans dressed in nappies and body paint stood out even at the lively North Harbour Stadium on Saturday.

Romain Garcia said the friends studied together in France and had come to New Zealand for a six-month tour, with the Rugby World Cup as their highlight.

They were having fun and showing support, Mr Garcia said.

The group had already been in the country for a month, and were impressed with the landscapes and hospitality, he said.

"Everywhere we go, people come talk to us as soon as they know we're French."

Laura Baldini said their best experiences had been the people in New Zealand.

Saturday's match against Japan was France's first in the tournament and "really important" for the team, she said.

The group will travel to other French games as much as they can.

Japanese

Toshio Morita arrived a year ago just to get himself ready for the Rugby World Cup.

Mr Morita flew in from Tokyo last year to live in Hamilton - and spent the year studying English at Waikato University and getting behind the Chiefs.

"I was preparing for the Rugby World Cup," he said.

He has tickets to 17 games and will be cheering on the Japan team - and the All Blacks with just as much enthusiasm.

Bus his loyalties will be divided when they clash in Hamilton on Friday.

Mr Morita was at Eden Park on Friday to cheer on the All Blacks - particularly Waikato players such as Richard Kahui.

But Japan's first match was the important one, he said.

"For me, today is the opening game."

He has booked to travel around the country on cheap bus fares and a flight from Wellington to Dunedin.

The cost of the entire trip added up to a big sum, but he was not too concerned.

"I paid for them almost a year ago, so I've forgotten." Japanese Rie Iwaguchi has been living on the North Shore for four years, looking forward to supporting the Japan rugby team for a long time.

"We are so excited. We've been waiting for the World Cup, and this is brilliant," Mrs Iwaguchi said.

She put on a red wig for the day and her husband, Nobu, showed his support with a face mask.

They were among a good crowd of Japanese supporters in the packed North Harbour Stadium.

Shoichi Maizono said he had travelled just for the World Cup, and was as keen to see the All Blacks play Japan.

"I love New Zealand. Japan might lose to them 100-0 but it's okay."

Many New Zealanders also backed Japan on Saturday, especially anyone with a connection to Japan.

Colin B was dressed in red Japanese robes and a bandanna and cheered against France.

He said his wife, a teacher at Northcote College, had lived in Japan and they frequently visited the country.

New Zealanders

Fifteen pupils from Christchurch's red zone were flown north yesterday for a match that had been shifted away from their earthquake-devastated city.

Supported by the Auckland Council's tourism arm, the 14 teenage boys and one girl watched Australia play Italy at North Harbour Stadium.

The match was originally scheduled to be played at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, until damage from the February tragedy forced it to be relocated.

Craig Smith, 13, said he was a "really keen" rugby player with the Parkvale Rugby Club, having played for eight years.

The club's grounds had been badly damaged in the earthquake, Craig said. "It was bad. We all worked together to fix it."

He was surprised to be flown to the match at North Harbour Stadium, his first trip to Auckland.

"It was awesome. I was very excited and couldn't wait," Craig said.

Jordan Ashby, 16, plays rugby for Avonside Girls High School and was thrilled to get the chance to watch a World Cup game.

"They just kind of sprung a surprise on me," she said. "The earthquake was awful, but I'm just looking forward to the game."

Jordan did not have strong allegiances towards either of the teams in the fixture, but said that she would be cheering against Australia.

"Maybe Italy, because they're the underdogs."

Jim Tuipulotu, 13, said he had been "gutted" when World Cup matches were moved away from Christchurch.

He would have attended matches in the city had they remained there, he said.

Jim was very excited about being able to be a part of the World Cup, but said his reaction to the offer to be flown up was, "Why me?"

Jim plays in the number-eight position for the Shirley Vikings and said he loved his rugby.

The Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development agency provided the match tickets and a grant to the Canterbury Rugby Union towards flights for the kids and their caregivers.

Canterbury Rugby selected the 15 children from schools that were hardest hit by the quakes.

The group were in Auckland for just the day, arriving about 1pm for the 3.30pm kickoff and flying out again at 8.45.

- NZ Herald

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