The Black Caps and England were officially welcomed on to Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui with a pōwhiri by local iwi this afternoon.
The sun was shining and the ground was looking a picture as both teams, their coaches and management staff were led on to the ground by England captain Joe Root and Black Caps captain Kane Williamson.
There were speeches and waiata and the hosts and visitors lined up to hongi and greet each other.
Kaumātua Turi Ngatai said Tauranga Moana was very proud of the way the people at Bay Oval Trust had put the ground together, "to such a state that we get a first test".
"We honour all those who have put such a facility together and we acknowledge both England and New Zealand and wish them all the best."
Ngatai also acknowledged local Black Cap Trent Boult, "as he comes from our tribe and is part of our family".
Williamson said a short speech, thanking local iwi for the welcome, which he said was particularly special for him as a local boy.
He said he wished he took te reo Māori as a subject at school so he could have spoken more te reo in the ceremony.
Williamson walked forward and presented a koha on behalf of the visitors – a signed Black Caps shirt and pounamu – and then stood back alongside Ngatai and his teammates and sung Tutira Mai Ngā Iwi.
Black Caps bowling coach Shane Jurgensen said after the ceremony: "It was fantastic to have the welcome, it was very moving and very special to be part of the initial test match in Tauranga at the Bay Oval. It got us off to a good start, we've literally just showed up for training and got back together as a group so it's been good."
Carlo Ellis, Tauranga City Council's manager of strategic Māori engagement, said it was important to have the cultural ceremony and properly welcome visitors to the area.
"Just to really lay the platform for them to have a good experience here, to play well in this case, and to enjoy each other's company. And, of course, with England being the world champions, it makes that a little bit more important, but also our Black Caps as well."
He said during the ceremony there were acknowledgements to God, the Māori king and "all of our ancestors that have passed before us, both for the people here – for this land – but also acknowledging those for the visitors that are coming in as well".
Ellis said there was also "a little bit of banter" backwards and forwards in te reo Māori.
The English rugby team was mentioned, for example, and so was those infamous Super Overs.
Ellis was sitting next to the English captain, Root, and was helping translate the te reo for him.
"He was pretty interested. These guys have been on a number of tours here and they often haven't had this cultural experience, so that's a real shame and I think it's something we're missing here in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
"He was pretty keen to hear what it was about so he could get an understanding of the ceremony as it was taking place, and just very respectful. I think both Kane and Joe are awesome human beings let alone cricket captains, genuinely interested, and just wanting to work through it and understand the process."
Both England and the Black Caps trained at Bay Oval today and the test match begins at 11am on Thursday.
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