When Irish eyes are ... scared
Lads in green touch down in HamiltonANGELA CUMING
It had all the elements of a traditional Waikato welcome: passionate fans who live and breath rugby, a powhiri and rain.
The lads in green touched down at Hamilton International Airport at 4pm to a Maori welcome on the tarmac. It was a scene that delighted the Irish fans who were at the airport to see their heroes in the flesh.
"I have got to be the biggest Irish rugby fan in the world," said Anna Wallace, who hails from County Clare but now calls Hamilton home.
There with daughter Lorna Rushworth and granddaughters Caitlin, 8, and Tara, 6, Mrs Wallace said she rushed to the airport after hearing on the radio the team was about to touch down.
As she explained the Maori protocol of the powhiri to her granddaughters, Mrs Wallace said she was "thrilled" to see her idols.
"It is my birthday on Sunday so my daughter is taking me to the match on Saturday night and I will be saying an Irish blessing for them to win."
Less than 30 minutes later she got an early birthday present when iwi representatives invited the public to join the official line of people to meet the players and coaching staff.
Youngsters, some still in school uniforms and in bare feet, stood side-by-side with Mayor Julie Hardaker and solemnly shook each player's hand and wished them luck for the big game.
The players looked pleased with the support and thanked the children for making such an effort.
"You just make sure you win for me, Brian," said Mrs Wallace when she met the Irish captain, Brian O'Driscoll.
Gallagher's board member Margaret Comer took a bit of time off work to head to the airport.
"I just think those boys are so, so lovely ... " she said. "I love my All Blacks but the whole of the Waikato loves the Irish."
Gifts were exchanged between Ms Hardaker and team she was given a signed Irish jersey.
Then it was onto the team bus and into town for the boys.
Hamilton will next see them on Saturday night when they take on the All Blacks at Waikato Stadium in a sold-out test.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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