2011 - thanks for the memories
On the day of the first match of Rugby World Cup 2011 something magical happened. In the months leading up to the tournament the grumbles about budgets and lack of accommodation had grown louder, and from some quarters it felt like the people of New Zealand weren’t looking forward to hosting the game’s greatest show on earth.
But on that first day, before New Zealand played Tonga, fan power took over. In downtown Auckland representatives of all 20 nations (and some more) mingled at Queen’s Wharf and kicked off a sensational party that lasted more than six weeks and covered 48 matches.
The final result was, of course, important to New Zealanders, but long before Stephen Donald kicked the winning penalty in the Final against France the success of Rugby World Cup 2011 was guaranteed.
Long before one of the greatest ever All Blacks sides lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, the tournament was certain to be acclaimed as one of the best of the first seven. The key to its success was the attitude of the people of New Zealand, who guaranteed that 2011 would be remembered as the “Friendly World Cup”, and much of the praise for the country’s attitude to the arrival of 100,000 overseas visitors must go to the 6,500 volunteers who transformed cities and towns across the whole country.
The volunteers were the perfect ambassadors for a proud country and set a bar that both the London Olympics in 2012 and the next World Cup, in 2015, will do well to reach.
“New Zealand has done itself proud,” said RNZ 2011 Ltd Chairman Brian Roche. “Rugby fans, even those with a passing interest in the game, have dressed up, painted their faces and turned each match into true festival of rugby and our country.
“Others have gone to Fanzones, enjoyed REAL New Zealand Festival events and given our visitors the best of welcomes.
“We promised a stadium of four million great fans and hosts, and without a doubt New Zealand has delivered.
“None of this would have been possible without the passion and dedication of an army of people across New Zealand.
“The Team 2011 volunteers have been at the forefront of our efforts to look after visitors and ensure they left with the best of memories of their time here while also contributing to the successful delivery of 48 matches.
“Through the past six years since we won the bid to host RWC 2011, our partners have worked tirelessly to ensure we created the best platform to deliver on the promises we made in Dublin.
“We thank those in central and local government, the NZ 2011 Office, provincial rugby unions, regional tourism and other industry organisations and of course the staff and management of our own organisation, RNZ 2011.
The collective efforts of so many have ensured we have delivered an event all New Zealanders can be proud of and one that enhances our country’s position on the world stage.
“Most importantly from our position as tournament organiser, we have shown the world that our great little country can deliver a globally significant event with a host of challenges. We are confident our success stands New Zealand in good stead to attract major events in the future.
“We are proud of our achievements in meeting our ticket revenue target and successfully delivering
48 matches at 12 venues. The final was the icing on the cake of what was already one of the great Rugby World Cups.”
Roche also confirmed the fact that he was part of a country that took their responsibility for hosting the World Cup very seriously.
“We made many promises in Dublin to the IRB, and throughout the tournament we’ve kept the focus on achieving those,” he added. “We have delivered 48 test matches, in 45 days, in 12 venues.
“We’ve done it, and we can reflect on everything that’s been achieved.”
Once the final whistle blew at Eden Park, the party really picked up pace, with World Cup parades in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, and they captivated the hearts of everyone who witnessed them, including the country’s Prime Minister, John Key.
“I don’t think New Zealand’s seen anything like this since we won the America’s Cup in 1995. It’s a remarkable outpouring of support. They think about a quarter of a million people are here, so for a city of about 1.3 million it’s a lot of people turning up,” said Key.
The All Blacks’ Final triumph and the sensational victory parades that followed were even more poignant because the 12 months before Rugby World Cup 2011 arrived had not been easy for New Zealand, with the Pike River mining disaster, the Christchurch earthquakes and then, after the tournament started, the Rena shipwreck and subsequent oil spill in the Bay of Plenty. All that in addition to the global economic downturn that especially affected small countries like New Zealand.
“Winning the World Cup means everything actually,” added Prime Minister Key. “It’s been a very tough 12 months for New Zealand, with the earthquakes and the Pike River mine disaster. So this was really something that galvanised the country and brought everyone together. We’re rugby mad at the best of times, and to be hosted in New Zealand was a bit of a fairytale ending really.
“I don’t believe any other sport in the world could have delivered those parades. In which other sport would we have seen the fans of all 20 nations – and more – line the streets of New Zealand, arm in arm, celebrating not only the All Blacks’ amazing 8–7 victory but the sport we all love?”
If you ever want to see the personification of “world in union”, it came less than 24 hours after Richie McCaw lifted the Webb Ellis Cup above his head, when he did it all over again in the streets of Auckland.
One man on those streets was the IRB’s Head of Rugby World Cup, Kit McConnell. “On Sunday night in Auckland, the fans I think felt a huge amount of relief and expressed themselves in a really positive way, and 200,000 people were estimated to have come out in Auckland on Monday for the parade,” said McConnell.
“We have seen the same scenes in Christchurch and Wellington. And it is fantastic that the All Blacks can give something back to those communities, particularly in Christchurch, who had such a difficult time in the build-up with the earthquakes and with the fact that we had to move the matches away from the city. The fact that the All Blacks could go back there as Rugby World Cup winners and give something back to the community during the parade was something very special.”
On the field it was a huge success as well, as we saw the Tier 2 nations close the gap and a compelling final that had more than 60,000 at Eden Park and millions more on television on the edge of their seats until the final whistle.
McConnell explains: “We saw some outstanding rugby, and that culminated in perhaps one of the great Rugby World Cup finals, which certainly had four million New Zealanders and probably people all around the world very nervous and a little bit tense going into even the last seconds.
“I think the final was a real justification of the rugby on the field, but the rugby from the first game right through the 48 games to the last has been absolutely outstanding. We have seen matches like Tonga upsetting France, who then went on to push the All Blacks to within one point in the final. We
have seen Russia on their debut scoring three tries against Australia, three tries against Italy and two against Ireland and pushing the USA the whole way in that match.
Memorable moments on and off the field
“Right from the debutants through to the traditional powers of rugby, we have seen some great performances on the field, and then off the field the whole country has embraced the tournament. I don’t think we have ever seen a Rugby World Cup where a whole country has come together to support the tournament, to engage with it and to welcome the 100,000 travelling fans and have those travelling fans embrace the country the same way. It has been absolutely incredible off the field.”
It was presumed by many ahead of Rugby World Cup 2011 that the tournament would never return to the Land of the Long White Cloud, but it was so successful that such a prediction could never be made again.
Even RNZ 2011 CEO Martin Snedden was prepared to admit before the tournament that this would be New Zealand’s only chance to host it. But not afterwards.
“The Rugby World Cup is not just to make money but also for the rugby reason, and we have a lot of reasons to come back to New Zealand,” said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.
RWC Minister Murray McCully was similarly committed to its return, adding: “The way in which the New Zealand people went out of their way to make the visitors feel welcome was very special. Some of them took three weeks off work just to be a part of this, and I think that really epitomises what
New Zealand is all about. For New Zealanders the hosting of Rugby World Cup has been a wonderful experience. An opportunity not just for rugby but to celebrate New Zealand.”
Those who were part of the stadium of four million should be proud … we’ll definitely be back.
In terms of the seventh Rugby World Cup Final itself, we learnt:
- New Zealand join Australia and South Africa as two-time RWC winners.
- France remain the only team to have played in a RWC final without winning one. Their three final losses is a record.
- This was the lowest-scoring RWC final, surpassing the 18 points scored in 1991.
- It was the first Final to have two replacements score points, and Stephen Donald became the first player to make his Rugby World Cup debut in a Final.
- Jean Marc Doussain became the first player to make his Test debut in a RWC Final. At 20 years and 253 days, he was the third-youngest player to play a RWC Final.
- Brad Thorn, at 36 years and 262 days old, became the oldest player to win a RWC Final, surpassing
- England’s Jason Leonard who was 35 years and 100 days old when his side defeated Australia at RWC 2003.
- Tony Woodcock became only the second prop to score in a Rugby World Cup Final. Tony Daly
- scored the only try of the match in Australia’s win over England in 1991.
- Richie McCaw won his seventh RWC match as New Zealand captain, breaking Reuben Thorne’s
- All Blacks record.