Trans-Tasman rivalry was temporarily forgotten as the Wallabies arrived at Nelson Airport to find themselves swamped by enthusiastic locals offering hugs.
With the Rugby World Cup 2011 well under way, Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio had declared Wednesday ‘Hug an Aussie Day’ and encouraged his community to literally embrace visiting Australians in an effort to help smooth over recent tensions between Wallaby and All Blacks fans.
“The tension between us is always going to be there and it’s a good tension,” Miccio said.“But there have been one or two idiots out there who ruin the party so a day like this brings everything back to where it should be.
The Wallabies may have thought their unpublicised arrival in Nelson ahead of their Pool D match against Russia at Trafalgar Park on Saturday would be low key. However, word of their arrival time spread quickly on the streets of the small coastal city and by early evening a spirited crowd had gathered at the airport terminal. Mayor Miccio, who lived in Australia for seven years and is married to an Australian, made sure he was on hand to welcome the team by taking Radike Samo and James O’Connor in his arms.
“We want to be the most friendly host city in New Zealand. I think this is going to go a long way to winning that prize,” he said.
For 11-year-old Soren Bercoe, who wrapped his arms around as many of the players as he could, Wallaby wing Drew Mitchell was the best hugger.
“Drew Mitchell and I had a hug fight,” said Soren. “We were tapping each other on the back to see who would win and then after a while he just said, ‘OK, you win’.”
It is a nice gesture, but when the Wallabies and Kiwis play each other, there’s an edge to the atmosphere. It’s not like the stupid Poms who fight each other on the terraces, but without the rivalry, without the passion…it would be simply lame.
I respect the Kiwis…but this is the World Cup…every four years. It’s what both sides want…the blood is up. What would The Ashes be without a bit of passion and tradition?
The All Blacks and Wallabies embrace the rivalry.
One player who avoided the more robust hugs was centre Pat McCabe, who is still recovering from the dislocated shoulder he suffered in Australia’s bruising win over USA last Friday.
by Terence Johns