Only 1000 tickets are left to the opening match of the Rugby World Cup and tournament organisers say everything is ready - "almost".
Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden said yesterday that New Zealand had been through a year of almost unprecedented difficulty, from the Christchurch earthquakes that robbed that city of a chance to host matches, to the Pike River mining disaster, to the global economic crisis whose insidious effect continues to be felt.
"The country is ready to have fun. It is ready to have a party," Mr Snedden said. "We are ready to really welcome and embrace the thousands and thousands of international visitors that are coming."
Mr Snedden said the bar had been set very high by previous tournaments, particularly the French one four years ago.
"I'm confident it will be an exceptional and successful tournament," said IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset.
"Everything is ready, almost - probably tonight... All is set for a magnificent World Cup and I hope to enjoy it."
Mr Lapasset acknowledged the uniqueness of New Zealand's rugby culture.
"This mix between Maori culture and rugby tradition is one part of the success of this tournament and the reason why this tournament is so special."
Mr Lapasset used the occasion to launch the Rugby World Cup Christchurch Appeal.
All proceeds of the appeal, which will be fronted by All Black captain Richie McCaw, will go to "helping rebuild the rugby community in Christchurch".
Mr Snedden said Christchurch would continue to play a significant part in the tournament.
"The people of Christchurch are going to be in our hearts and in our minds on many occasions during the tournament," he said.
"One of my greatest hopes is that they feel, as the tournament goes on, that they are part of what's happening and that they are able to enjoy it."
Mr Snedden said remaining tickets had been selling quickly.
"The intensity of ticket buying happening in the last two days in particular is just snowballing, and I have no reason to believe it's going to stop."
There were still 45 days to sell $22 million of tickets, and there was no better marketing than the opening weekend, he said.
There were only 1000 tickets left to opening night, and matches this weekend in North Harbour Stadium, Dunedin and New Plymouth would be sold out or close to it, he said.
There are a total of 381,000 tickets left around the country, but New Zealanders are being told not to wait till the last minute to get their tickets or they might miss out.
"There are still tickets available for most of the matches so it's a last-minute plea from me for people to be a little bit careful about how they go about the last stage of this ticket buying," said Mr Snedden.
Mr Lapasset said IRB profits from the tournament - which include a hosting fee estimated at $150 million - would fund the development of rugby for the next four years.
"More than $35 million will go to Oceania and $12 million to New Zealand," he said.
"[There are] huge returns to the promotion of the islands and the top unions."