Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

All Blacks: Last tickets snapped up as rugby fever hits Hamilton

Hamilton prepares for biggest weekend of the year as Irish team and fans arrive Ireland's captain Brian O'Driscoll accepts the challenge at a powhiri in Hamilton yesterday. Picture / Christine Cornege.
Hamilton prepares for biggest weekend of the year as Irish team and fans arrive Ireland's captain Brian O'Driscoll accepts the challenge at a powhiri in Hamilton yesterday. Picture / Christine Cornege.

Rugby fever is spreading in Hamilton as Ireland and the All Blacks arrive and local businesses gear up for a big weekend.

The last remaining tickets for tomorrow's match were snapped up on Wednesday night and the stadium will be jam-packed with 25,100 people pouring in to see the third and final test.

Two of the three Rugby World Cup matches in the city last year also sold out.

The Irish team got a big welcome yesterday as they touched down from Queenstown and were greeted on the tarmac with a powhiri.

Among the small crowd gathered to meet them was Hamilton mother Lorna Rushworth, who took her Irish mother, Anna Wallace, and two daughters, Caitlin, 8, and Tara, 6, to meet the players. The girls had their photos taken with Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll.

"They were so friendly and polite. They shook hands with my children and chatted to them - they were lovely guys, really down to earth," Mrs Rushworth said.

Irish fans are slowly arriving in Hamilton and Waikato Motel Association president Mike Ward was preparing himself for the supporters to arrive en masse from today when accommodation was mostly sold out.

Mr Ward's Aquarius Motor Lodge had been busy all week as he and other motels reaped the benefits from business people and families looking for alternative accommodation because the All Blacks has taken over the city's Novotel for the week.

Lawrenson Group chief executive John Lawrenson said the last time Ireland were in town for a test match in 2006 was the biggest night he had seen in the city.

His restaurants and bars were getting ready by calling on an extra 100 staff for the night.

Tables at The Helm - one of the bars closest to the stadium - had been reserved for more than three weeks.

"We are expecting massive numbers, gearing up for the biggest weekend of the year - far bigger than Fieldays and even the V8s," Mr Lawrenson said.

Spectators are being urged to park in a city car park and walk to the stadium or hop on one of the free rugby shuttles travelling in a circular route around Victoria St, Ulster St, Abbotsford St, Anglesea St, Alexandra St, Hood St and Bryce St.

Waikato Stadium will also be dropping its loyalty to Waikato Draught for the night to accommodate the tests' major sponsor Steinlager and instead Steinlager Edge and Classic will be served.

While Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Sandy Turner said feedback from retailers was that they had been flat out and were expecting to get even busier.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said international sporting events were always good for the city - particularly the hospitality industry.

"But especially in terms of the Irish games - the Irish are much loved by our city and people get behind them ... so it's always a good time."

All Blacks Maa Nonu, Zac Guildford and Wyatt Crockett were yesterday teaching a group of Hamilton First XV captains safe rugby techniques at Beetham Park.

GETTING THERE

* Free rugby shuttles are travelling in a circular route past Victoria St, Ulster St, Abbotsford St, Anglesea St, Alexandra St, Hood St and Bryce St to get to Waikato Stadium.

* Arrive early for pre-match activities in Garden Place between 3pm and 6.30pm.

- NZ Herald

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