Rugby World Cup 2011 - New Zealand's biggest sporting event begins

Getty Images

The Historian     13 Sep 2012     Getty Images

Some parochial fans might have disagreed with the term 'losing streak', as the All Blacks record at Rugby World Cups was still strong despite the solitary success, with their 2007 quarter-final exit the only time they hadn’t at least reached the last four, while they remained the only nation never to have lost a fixture in pool play.

The 2011 All Blacks, like many the Black clad World Cup hopefuls before them, entered the tournament as favourites, although uncomfortably their brilliant ‘four-year mid tournament record’ of 39 wins from 46 test matches, capped off with a mighty 30-14 win against the Wallabies at Eden Park midway through that season's Tri Nations, was stained coming into the Rugby World Cup.

While the touring party to South Africa may not have been full strength, back-to-back losses to their two great rivals (5-18 in Port Elizabeth, 20-25 in Brisbane) ensured that not only did the All Blacks enter the tournament with double defeats – but the ever dangerous Wallabies arrived in New Zealand with a swagger in their step thanks to winning the final Tri Nations trophy.

The All Blacks were the number one seeded team (a seeding that was matched by their place on the IRB rankings), thanks to the draw conducted back in December 2008, and their squad, announced at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane, contained few surprises and was led by the incomparable Richie McCaw.

Other teams touched down in New Zealand leading into kick off for the Rugby World Cup, given traditional Maori greetings as the ‘Stadium of Four Million’ prepared to come to life.

As the opening ceremony began, goose bumps were the order of the evening as 26 Waka left Viaduct basin carrying over 600 Maori warriors from Iwi all over the country, following by Waka Te Aurere (a Waka Hourua – double hulls) carrying 20 children dressed in the colours of the competing nations.

As the third largest sporting event in the world – after the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup – began, fireworks and a state of the art audio visual display took over to bewilder our senses.

There was a hint of sadness in the ceremony, as Ethan Bai waited for All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu to tell him to score, with the wing saying “Do it for Christchurch, My Friend” in reference to the devastating earthquakes in February 2011 that forced the New Zealand Rugby Union to make the heart breaking decision to re-allocate matches from the wounded city.

There was also plenty of music, with local Kiwi singers Dave Dobbyn and Neil and Tim Finn at the waterfront to shower us with some classics – and there was a hint of crystal ball gazing when the two brothers decided to sing their old Split Enz classic 'History Never Repeats.'

The opening match saw the All Blacks host Tonga, fitting considering that the Auckland Tongan community had given their team a rousing welcome, perhaps only second to the reception that the Rugby World Cup hosts received.

As the two war dances began, the All Blacks haka and the Tongans Sipi Tau, the first match of the Rugby World Cup began, and while the scoreline eventually settled at 41-10, the Pacific Islanders gave as good as they got – with Sona Taumalolo’s try bringing the 60,000 strong Eden Park crowd to their feet.

The following evenings the remainder of the teams began their campaigns, and there was some hint of theatre to come came as England survived an Argentinean scare to win 13-9, before South Africa had to fight off Wales to finish 17-16.

The excitement had begun, but we had little idea as to the high dramas that would unfold as the Rugby World Cup began...