Dispatches from the Front: World Cup 2011 Days 1-3.

This is part 1 of a 5-part series. See also: part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

The 2011 World Cup tour for the Harlequins and associates began a bit early for two of us on September 6th (we actually arrived on Sept. 8th). As Lewis Black once said, if you want to imagine air travel to New Zealand, sit on a chair in your house and squeeze your head with both hands hard for 19 hours. Despite the lengthy flight, once you arrive here and recompose yourself, the duration is well worth it.

Sharpo cashed in some “royalty points” and we stayed two nights at the Hilton on the Auckland harbor (location, Prince’s Wharf.. see what did I say, royalty). Normal prices were 900 dollars a night! From hence forth my loyal subjects can call me Prince Jim when addressing me. The Auckland harbour front was in full swing for the festivities, and with proper patience and a straight face, you could get two pints for about $22.

New Zealand is a hot-bed and arguably a floating shine to rugby, and that is only enhanced by the festive nature of the once every four years cycle of a world cup. New Zealand last hosted (and won) the cup in 1987. It’s been a bit of a drought for the All Blacks ever since, and the hopes of a nation are riding (and expecting) nothingless than a championship this time around.

1st stop for the dynamic duo was the opening ceremonies and kick-off match of the beloved New Zealand All Blacks vs. Tonga. The Tongan fans were all over the city blowing horns and waving flags, and ready to adopt anyone to their cause.

The opening acts consisted of a fantastic dance and light show that signified the birth and settlement of New Zealand. It closed with a inspiring appearance by former All Black great Jonah Lomu hoisting a 12 year old ‘rookie’ who (with mechanical assistance) leaped 100 ft in the air to snag a huge rugby ball and came to earth to score a try.

It was designed to signify the ability of the New Zealander’s to come together and overcome the crushing devastation of the recent (and maybe forgotten by the major news organizations?) earthquake that leveled parts of the city of Christchurch. It just goes to show that the New Zealander’s are a proud and resourceful people, and are determined to be gracious hosts.

This was followed up with not one but two Hakas, one by the Tongan team and then of course, the chilling reply by the All Blacks. It was a bruising match, with the favored All Blacks not dismantling Tonga as they have done in the past. Even with all the hard hits and flashing cameras, there were elements of beautiful individual skills and teamwork by both sides.

Needless to say, the All Blacks aren’t being given a pass by the local press, despite the normal hero status imposed upon them. Several articles lambasted them for lackluster or ‘ordinary’ play. It just goes to show you (take note Brewers and Packers players), that even when a city, state, or country is behind you they still demand your best.

The rest of the team arrived yesterday on the 10th, looking a bit bleary eyed but ready to go. Joe Kloiber led the group off the bus, looking spry and ready to battle.

One of the great features of rugby trips is the hosting of tourists in locals homes. These gracious folks take care of you like extended family, and are often a nice oasis from hotels and hostels.

After meeting our hosts, it was off to the France vs. Japan match at North Harbor stadium. This match as well was supposed to be lopsided in favor of the French, but the Japanese team (with sprinkling of Jason’s and Dave’s…hmmm) pushed them to the limit and even had a chance to win. The French regrouped and closed out solidly, if not with a bit of cold sweat on their necks.

After 4 days of beautiful weather, the rains and wind have arrived, making our 1pm kickoff vs. Massey RFC shading towards a coin toss and boat-race. There are a number of gracious events for the remembrance of Sept. 11th while we are here, including the US Marine Corps Pacific Band and other solemn events. This will culminate in the USA Eagles playing Ireland at 6pm tonight.

Yours in rugby,
Prince Jim

Jim Harings
Jim Harings
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