Excitement is reaching fever pitch here in New Zealand as the nation gears up for its big couple of months in the spotlight.
The rugby is all anyone can talk about, and although that’s often the case in these parts, even my Indian cab driver yesterday was waxing lyrical about how his team were going to win the World Cup.
I landed in Auckland on Tuesday morning to be greeted by hundreds of cheering Australians. It’s by far the best reception I’ve had by Aussies, but it turns out the Wallabies had arrived just behind me and the cheers were (mostly) for James Horwill and his team mates.
A quick check-in at my hotel and then off to Eden Park to pick up a couple of things, before meeting up with the NZ Guinness marketing team to discuss the video diary we’ll be producing for their 1759.Guinness.com site – keep an eye on it this week!
I was given a quick tour of Auckland by car, and then I headed into town to meet some of the fans down at the harbour. Three Cardiff supporters, complete with matching pink jerseys, were optimistic about the Welsh chances, and I even met a Scot who thought his team could go all the way.
Everywhere you look in Auckland there are Rugby World Cup flags, banners that read, ‘The world is here to party’ and various special events to get people in the mood.
Speaking of the mood, there is a slightly sombre backdrop after the Christchurch earthquake, and that’s where I headed on Wednesday to pick up the campervan and see the devastation caused in February at first-hand.
The Rugby World Cup is actually serving as a reminder to Cantabrians of what happened, now that the whole country is preparing to party, but there’s nothing happening in Christchuch and they feel left out.
Many Kiwis that have spoken to are hoping that their team wins the World Cup for the people of Canterbury after the tough year they’ve had so far, and few would begrudge them that.
After an enjoyable evening with some family friends, I hit the road for the first time heading towards Dunedin to set up camp for the first weekend of rugby and fun.
With such a busy week and lots going on, it’s distracted me from thinking about what a huge fixture this is for England. It’s too easy to underestimate Argentina, shorn of many of their star names from 2007, but Johnno’s men haven’t exactly been on fire recently, and defeat would be disastrous.
Now that I’m here with the prospect of a couple of months of rugby ahead, I’m even more desperate for the home nations to perform well and give us something to cheer all the way to the end. An early exit isn’t out of the question for any of them, but victory this weekend will set them up nicely.
What are your predictions for the first set of games? Will England beat Argentina? Can Wales surprise the Springboks? Are you as excited as the New Zealanders about this World Cup?!
Next week, I’m off to Queenstown to pick up Stu and Justin, where the tour will begin in earnest! We’ll try and produce a diary entry a couple of times each week, but follow me on Twitter (@Hutch_James) and keep in touch.