Canadian team arrives in North

By Michelle Curran of the Northern Advocate -

The Canada Canucks are in New Zealand for the World Cup to learn - and not just about rugby.

The team was humbled and overwhelmed by their cultural experience at Waitangi yesterday, skipper and hooker Pat Riordan said.

Canada arrived at Kerikeri airport on Sunday night after a two-week camp on the Gold Coast in preparation for their first World Cup match against Tonga at Whangarei's Toll Stadium on September 14.

Canada were the only team to accept the invitation to have their official welcome and capping ceremony at Waitangi and they were greeted with a taki (challenge) before moving into the whare runanga where IRB chief executive Mike Miller and Sir John Wells, a director of Rugby New Zealand 2011 Limited, presented the team with their official RWC participation caps.

Mr Riordan said the team felt privileged to experience a part of the New Zealand culture, saying travel and learning about other countries was a huge part of being a modern day rugby player.

"It is incredibly humbling to be here - especially coming from a country that does not have such an amicable relationship with our indigenous First Nations people - their culture is not so widely represented and accepted in our mainstream culture as it is here. The team know the significance of this area and to take part in a powhiri here is huge," the skipper said.

The team had been given some insight into Maori culture by their coach, former All Black Kieran Crowley and their No8 Jeremy Kyne, a Kiwi-born Canadian resident, whose mother Gaye Kyne had travelled from Wellington to see her son in the capping ceremony.

But facing the challenge and learning about the history of the area and its people was fascinating and an ideal way to kick start their campaign, Riordan said.

Waitangi's Isaiah Apiata was one of the kaitaki (challengers) to approach the team.

Mr Apiata - nephew of Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata - said he was chosen for the role because he was from the area. "I don't really like rugby," he quipped after his performance. "But it is a big honour to be part of the Rugby World Cup as it comes around once in a blue moon ... I'm supporting Fiji," he added.

The Canadian team responded well to the taki, and while they seemed a little overwhelmed, Mr Apiata said they had a nice, respectful manner.

While there were mostly officials and elders at the grounds for the capping ceremony, 60 children from Paihia Primary School turned out to cheer Canada on. Six-year-old Austin Bray-Champtaloup said he was very excited about the World Cup. With a Canadian mum Rachel Bray, and his Kiwi dad Michael Champtaloup, he was going to support both Canada and the All Blacks during the tournament - but one day he wanted to play for Canada.

On Saturday, the international referees and judicial panel were officially welcomed at Waitangi, and spent the weekend in a bonding/briefing session.

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