RWC: Northern threats touch down

By Paul Harper, Yvonne Tahana

England's Mike Tindall signs autographs. Photo / Paul Estcourt
England's Mike Tindall signs autographs. Photo / Paul Estcourt

The Rugby World Cup sparked into life yesterday with the arrival of the two most dangerous Northern Hemisphere sides - England and France.

England supporters have high hopes for a second title, if the team's reception yesterday morning was anything to go on.

The squad arrived at Auckland Airport shortly after 5am and were welcomed with a haka and waiata, as well as rapturous applause and a chorus of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot from around 100 of their fans.

In the team is star first-five Jonny Wilkinson and fellow 2003 World Cup winner Mike Tindall, who recently married Zara Phillips, the granddaughter of the Queen.

Aaron Homewood, 17, and his 14-year-old sister Jenna woke up early to greet the team.

"I think they can win it. They've got a solid team," Aaron said. He believed Wilkinson was the key if England were to repeat their 2003 success.

"He's won the World Cup before. He's proven he's a world class player."

Jenna said. "I think they have a good chance of winning it - they're one of the top dogs."

Mark Hamilton, from Liverpool, stayed up all night in anticipation of the chance to see the side.

"I didn't want to risk oversleeping and miss this opportunity this morning," he said.

Not all of the crowd were English, with many residents of Clevedon and Ponsonby also showing their support. The Auckland areas have adopted England as their second team.

The French arrived yesterday afternoon and went straight to Takapuna for an official welcome. Hato Petera College students were on hand to welcome them.

Les Bleus - the bane of New Zealand at the 1999 and 2007 tournaments - are based on the North Shore and share Pool A with the All Blacks.

Phoenix Harris, 16, was in the front row of 145 students who welcomed the team with a haka at The Spencer on Byron hotel, shaking hands with some of the players afterwards.

The 1st XV flanker said he was waiting for cult figure Sebastien Chabal - the shaggy No8 who is so popular here he's appeared in television ads. He didn't realise Chabal hadn't made the cut.

After greeting the players, Phoenix reckons the team's lost nothing.

"It doesn't matter - all these boys are huge. Massive.

"I've never met a French person before, one of them said 'kia ora'. It was pretty awesome."

Expat Kevin McLean was visiting from Perth. There was nothing like the haka, he said.

"These kids were just fantastic, they make me want to move home."

Ross Bridgens, 62, has tickets to 13 games in Auckland and Hamilton. Locals thought the French team would be good for business, he said.

"It'll be good for the restaurants, they like their food and their wine. I'm looking forward to eating some snails and some frogs legs with them."

Former Counties Manukau player Glen Marsh, 39, helped organise the welcome. Teams' arrivals had lit the fuse for people's excitement levels, he said.

Japan also arrived yesterday led by their coach, All Black great John Kirwan, who said it was good to be home. They were greeted by fans and Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

- NZ Herald

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