Party atmosphere around Rugby World Cup fan zones

By Joanne Carroll

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Georgina Gatenby, Jenny Jessep and Caitlin O'Shea at the Wellington City Fanzone. Photo / Justine Hall, Wellington City Council
Georgina Gatenby, Jenny Jessep and Caitlin O'Shea at the Wellington City Fanzone. Photo / Justine Hall, Wellington City Council

Communities across New Zealand celebrated and welcomed the start of the knock-out finals with open arms at fan zones.

"We're not party central but the country folk are right in behind the rugby," said Jim Shand, manager of the Waipukurau Civic Theatre, where about 50 people gathered to watch yesterday's matches at the cinema.

"We weren't expecting big numbers, people are more interested in the All Blacks. We got 260 for the All Blacks v France match. We are licensed to show all the quarter-final, semifinals and the final.

"We are providing a party atmosphere with food and beverages being served from 5.30pm," he said.

The quarter-final phase of the Rugby World Cup has seen fan zones pop up across the country as places where people who don't have tickets can celebrate and watch the action on big screens.

In Auckland, the three suburban fan zones in Albany, Henderson and Mangere were well below capacity while party central on Queens Wharf was as busy as ever.

Families trouped in for the family-friendly entertainment before the matches but by the time the England v France match kicked off many had left to get children home to bed, leaving scattered hundreds in fan zones capable of holding thousands.

Rotorua events manager Martin Croft said the fan zone was "proving a hit" with locals and tourists. He said about 1000 people turned up to watch the Ireland v Wales match. The fan zone was moved from the Energy Events Centre to the Convention Centre this week so capacity was reduced from 4000 to 1500.

"We have entertainment by local school groups and bands prior to the games.

"It's working really well for us. We have a kids zone where they can run around. We are very family-oriented and we have games and music for the kids. We have a bar but people don't come down to drink," he said.

The kids' zone and entertainment kicked off from 3.30pm in the lounge area which was set up with couches, bean bags and bar leaners.

The theatre had capacity for about 800 to watch the games on the big screen.

"We have a massive screen 8m wide. It's like being at the cinema. The sound is very good. People can enjoy the entertainment in the lounge but once the game starts they can move into the theatre. We are going to show every game but from next weekend we will move back to the Energy Events Centre," he said.

For the final a "huge" parade was organised as part of a four-hour lead-up of great entertainment, activities, displays and food before watching the final game live on the big screen. Prizes would be given away including the best dressed team or family of four.

Wayne Raphbone was one of a group of 42 people from Napier who popped into the fan zone during a trip to Rotorua. "It's great. A whole lot of us came down to the fan zone. They have great bars and I've eaten some nice veggie samosas, we're being well looked after. Unfortunately the wrong team won," he said.

Karen Balasoglou, Taupo2011 project manager, said about 600 people watched the matches at the Great Lake Centre which hosted family friendly indoor activities before showing the matches on a huge screen.

The two quarter-final matches were projected on to a 5m screen in the main hall.

She said the adults were behaving themselves with alcohol restricted to the foyer only.

Hundreds of children from a junior rugby tournament at the domain went to the fan zone for a hangi put on by the Tuwharetoa tribe and to watch the matches on the big screen.

"We had the flags flying, grandstands set up, coaches and bean bags for the kids to sit around for their picnic and to watch the match. It was a relaxed informal atmosphere.

For the semifinals on, the fan zone would move to the CBD when Tuwharetoa St would be closed off for a street party atmosphere with the matches showing live on two big screens.

For finals night, an afternoon of activities and entertainment has been planned from 2pm, including street theatre, the Quintessential NZ Concert featuring New Zealand music scene heavyweights Kora.

In Wellington, teenager Jenny Jessep and her two friends watched the match from the Courtney Place fan zone.

"It was really good fun. I went with my two friends. I was supporting Wales because my mum is Welsh. We had a lot of laughs. It got pretty cold so we had some blankets to keep us warm during the rugby. There was heaps of people but we weren't too squashed. Everyone was really happy and there was lots of security so there was no trouble or anything," she said.

Wellington fan zone manager Dilys Grant said the city was buzzing with Welsh and Irish fans.

"There are plenty of Irish. Wellington has turned green. There are Welsh here too and there is some lighthearted banter between the two. But it's all in good fun," she said.

The waterfront could hold 3000 and Courtney Place 25,000.

Courtney Place was shut off and featured local bands such as The Thomas Oliver Band and other well-known artists, including Holly Smith.

The party continued at the waterfront until 11.30 where Midnight Youth took to the stage.

The TSB Arena, Civic Square and the Town Hall were family-friendly alcohol-free options for fans, with the matches being shown on a big screen at the Town Hall.

Grant said organisers had arranged for security with radio communication to monitor all areas, and closed off areas which were becoming too crowded.

Christchurch may have missed out on hosting the big RWC 2011 quarter-final match today but it won't be missing the party.

A spokeswoman said Prime Minister John Key was looking forward to going to Christchurch today to watch the All Blacks-Argentina quarter-final from the fan zone at North Hagley Park.

"The Prime Minister says there will be a lot of Cantabrians who will be disappointed the quarter-final isn't being played in Christchurch, and he wants to be among the crowd who otherwise would have been at the stadium."

- Herald on Sunday

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