USA fans (from left): Tom and Kim Feury, Jay and Kim Hawkins, Valerie Waters, Margherita Cantorna, Bernie Cantorna and Chris Waters. Photo / Mike Dinsdale
The Women’s Rugby World Cup has landed in Whangārei and with it hundreds of rugby fans from around the globe here to support their teams.
Yesterday was Whangārei’s turn to host its first games of the tournament after the nail-biting opener between the Black Ferns and Australia at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Italy drew first blood with a win over the USA, Canada dominated the bottom of the table Japanese side, and Wales was taking on Scotland at edition time.
Hundreds of fans adorned with their team colours and waving flags of support created a buzz in the Northland Events Centre before the opening whistle was even blown.
Organisers were pleased with ticket sales for Whangārei’s opening day as grandstand seats sold out.
Several people told the Advocate they were delighted with $10 tickets for three games and the flexibility to come and go as they please – a quality that meant the stadium never appeared full.
Northland’s economy is predicted by organisers to be bolstered by hundreds of thousands of dollars as the consecutive weekends of showcase rugby draws hordes of tourists.
Many of yesterday’s fans happily told how much they were loving their time in Northland.
Some of those were the parents of USA players Tess Feury, McKenzie Hawkins, Gabby Cantorna, Carly Waters, and Hope Rogers.
Tom and Kim Feury, Jay and Kim Hawkins, Valerie Waters, Margherita and Bernie Cantorna, and Chris Waters had travelled across the globe to see their daughters in action.
The group reckoned the USA have done amazingly well to make it to the worldwide stage and hoped the team would put in some strong performances.
They tip the US team for an upset along the way.
“A final against the Black Ferns would be great… and anything can happen from there,” Tom Feury said.
They planned to stay in the country for three or four weeks and intended to explore the place as much as they can, with parts of Northland on the schedule.
In the first game, Italy scored at the stroke of halftime through fullback Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi to lead 7-5 at the break (Italy won 22-10).
That try-scoring moment was wildly celebrated by the fullback’s parents, Martina Busato and Ostuni Minuzzi, who travelled to Whangārei from Padova to cheer their daughter on from the sidelines.
They were with pal Antonio Pasquale, a Russell local since 1995. His early predictions that the Italian side would perform their best proved true.
Pasquale planned to show the couple all of Northland’s “beautiful scenery” while they were in the country.
It was perhaps inevitable that Canadian team captain Sophie de Goede would end up playing rugby and captaining her national team.
After all her dad, Hans de Goede, captained Canada in two Rugby World Cups – the first on New Zealand soil in 1987 and the second in 1995.
But rugby also runs through the blood of de Goede’s mum, Steph White, who captained the Canadian women’s team in two Women’s Rugby World Cups in 1991 and 1994.
“Sophie is a great athlete who was good at many sports but we were so pleased she landed with rugby and it’s taken her to the highest points in the game, playing here against the best women players there are,” White said.
“We’re so proud of her.”
Hans de Goede said his daughter was always hanging around the game as a child.
“And best of all we get to travel around the world to all these amazing places to watch her play.”
White was disappointed the Canadians hadn’t featured in any pundits’ picks despite being ranked number three in the world.
“That’s good though because they will underestimate us and then watch out because we’re coming through,” she said.
Emma Campbell has come from Vancouver via Brisbane, where friend Libby Nankivell joined her.
Campbell, herself a former rugby player, said it was wonderful that women’s rugby was centre stage in a global event.
She knew about New Zealand through the All Blacks and Black Ferns so to experience a country that had such a big rugby culture was “amazing”.
Nankivell, an Australian supporting Canada on the day, has enjoyed being introduced to Māori culture.
“I’ve learned how to do poi, which is brilliant, and the singing and playing with the conch shells is just so haunting and beautiful, I’ve been blown away by it.”
Adding to the international experience was the array of foreign food available at the event centre’s Festival Zone.
The zone proved to be a popular place, particularly for the younger fans.
Scott and Kate Davies, from Taurikura in Whangārei Heads, checked out the Fan Zone with their daughters Riley, 5, and Aria, 2, during the halftime break in the opening match.
Scott Davies said having the World Cup in Whangārei was brilliant for the city.
“For rugby and sport in general, but particularly women’s sport, it’s great to have an event like this here. Hopefully it will inspire the next generation of players.”
Rugby fans can catch more exciting action in Whangārei. On October 15 Australia takes on Scotland, the USA faces Japan and there’s a clash of the heavyweights too, as France tackles England.
Then on October 22 Wales plays Australia, the Black Ferns meet Scotland and Fiji take on France. The Whangārei quarter-finals will be a week later.
Tickets can be bought at tickets2021.rugbyworldcup.com.