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Hundreds of fans pack down for men in black

HANNAH FLEMING AND LAIRD HARPER
Last updated 05:00 18/06/2013
All blacks fashion
JONATHAN CAMERON/Fairfax NZ
FANS IN FASHION: Jess Ellis works on the All Black window display at Katwalk Fashion.

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Kieran Read's favourite cartoon is SpongeBob SquarePants, Piri Weepu listens to reggae on game day, and Ben Franks can beat his brother, Owen, in an arm wrestle.

That and a whole lot more was revealed at an All Blacks open day at Puke Ariki yesterday afternoon.

An enthusiastic crowd of close to 1000 packed into every nook and cranny the museum's foyer could offer with a hope of seeing their rugby heroes up close.

Some succeeded, but others were forced to view the men in black from afar, or the heights of mum and dad's shoulders.

Those on display yesterday included forwards Matt Todd, Ben Afeaki, Andrew Hore, captain Kieran Read and the Franks brothers, with backs Piri Weepu and Tawera Kerr-Barlow also present.

Small Blacks television presenter Nua Finau emceed the event and made a good job of streamlining the chaos.

There was plenty of crowd interaction, with Weet-bix eating and haka competitions, as well as a question and answer session which gave kids the opportunity to ask anything their hearts desired.

Weepu was asked how fast he could run 100 metres, to which he replied: "I can beat Andrew Hore and that's about as good as it can get", while another youngster asked Read how cool it was to be captain.

"It's pretty cool being the captain of the All Blacks," he said. "It's a dream come true."

One young man caused a bit of confusion when he asked Ben Franks whether he had "cabbage ears".

Jamie Stockman, 8, managed to work his way to the front, and was quietly stoked with his efforts.

"Look, they're right there.

"This is so cool," he said.

Jamie's favourite part of the day was seeing the Franks brothers' arm-wrestling showdown.

"I reckon I could have nearly beat Owen," he said.

TRFU commercial manager Geoff Hitchcock said it was great to see such a large turnout and had no qualms about the excitement continuing through to Saturday.

"It's a shame with the weather not allowing us to have it at Yarrow Stadium, but we certainly appreciate all the kids who have come out today."

Those All Blacks absent from the open day attended a coaching clinic with some of the region's top high school players at the TSB Stadium.

RETAILERS CAUGHT UP IN THE IRON GRIP OF ALL BLACKS FEVER

Taranaki is in the grip of All Blacks fever ahead of the final test against France this weekend and retailers are hoping to cash in on the action.

Dozens of New Plymouth shops are already proudly hanging tributes to the men in black, but as thousands begin to descend on the city shopkeepers will have to fight to get their attention.

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Katwalk Fashion House owner Laura Crombie thinks she's got just the ticket to draw people into her store.

She has created a six-foot (183cm) tall message board to help rugby-mad fans express their support.

She said people could come in, leave a note and, with any luck, stay and shop.

"A lot of people around town kind of do the same old stuff," she said. "We thought we wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary and interactive."

And it's exactly what the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce wants its retailers to do.

General manager Judith Gilmer said the chamber was encouraging business owners to think outside the square in an effort to capitalise on the influx of potential shoppers.

She said it was up to businesses to "capture the market" and give visitors the best Taranaki experience they could.

Figures compiled by Statistics New Zealand showed the last time the men in black were in the region there was a 35.3 per cent jump in people spending the night.

- Taranaki Daily News

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