Monday, June 07, 2010

All Blacks: Stars 'shell shocked' by support

The All Blacks have vowed to repay fans with an entertaining style of rugby against Ireland after they were mobbed for a second straight day in Taranaki.
An All Blacks fan day at Yarrow Stadium drew an estimated 2000 people who packed the back grounds as the players held coaching sessions and signed autographs.

Captain Richie McCaw held the tackle bags for some keen youngsters and half the All Blacks squad held a mass coaching clinic for a group of promising under-20 players.
It followed on from their welcome at New Plymouth Airport which drew around 200 people and showed the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) got it right by awarding Saturday's test to Taranaki for just the second time.

"It's fantastic for us to get the country behind us, especially in these rural areas, before the World Cup," halfback Jimmy Cowan said.
"I think some of the younger fellas are a bit shell shocked but they'll get used to it pretty quickly.
"New Plymouth has set the benchmark, yesterday's greeting at the airport and again here today with 2000 people...
"The onus is now on us to front and put a good show on for the people who have supported us. Hopefully we go out there and play an attractive style so they can go away and be happy and be proud followers of what we're doing."

Today's session continued a noticeable charm offensive from the All Blacks and NZRU after the negativity around the sport last year, with fans largely staying away and the spectacle largely unappealing in the Super 14 and home tests.

Still, Saturday's test was yet to sell out with Taranaki Rugby Union chief executive Mark Robinson saying about 3000 tickets remained available today.

Extra seating had been installed, boosting the ground's capacity to 25,500 which would mean the biggest crowd since its redevelopment in 2002. The 2008 test against Samoa, which the All Blacks won 101-14, drew around 21,500.

"With the guys arriving yesterday and the general hype going around the town we'd like to think we'll sell the majority of those pretty quickly," Robinson said.

Robinson said the union saw the test as a trial for next year's World Cup and if they did it well, more tests would come their way.
Ireland arrived in Auckland yesterday and weren't scheduled to fly to New Plymouth until Thursday afternoon.
Robinson said there was initial disappointment at Ireland's choice to stay away

"It would have been nice to have them here early but we understand the rationale behind it.
"They played on the weekend and they're conscious of how much they fly and there's also an element of trying to replicate the World Cup as much as they can. You've got to appreciate in professional sport that's how teams do things."

Ireland are scheduled to spend 4-5 days in New Plymouth during the World Cup and would undertake some community events here on Thursday and Friday to try and drum up support, Robinson said.

By Mark Geenty

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