We in the media have been preparing for this for months, and my colleagues in print and online at the NZ Herald have done an amazing job. It's a massive undertaking, and I have to admit knowing it's just the start of a 6-week, dozens of game tournament kind of makes you quake a bit. It'd be lovely if this was just for two weeks or something, but going on till the end of October? Egad!
In-between working on the website and the paper Friday, I'd duck out and check out the scenes outside the building. It was like every college football game I'd ever seen rolled into one roiling mass of people -- flags of many nations, screaming drunken boys, nervous tourists, honking horns -- it was fun but also rather insane. Nobody in power seemed to be prepared at all for the massive crowds. Clearly NZ has gone a bit rugby-mad.
Unfortunately, the big opening celebration Friday night was a bit of a debacle on several fronts -- after months of hyping Auckland's public transport system it failed badly, with stuck trains, cancelled ferries, even elementary measures like failing to close the city's major downtown streets until hours of traffic chaos had ensued. Downtown Auckland was pretty madhouse Friday night -- estimates of anywhere from 120,000 to 200,000 people poured into downtown, which in a country of 4 million people is a HUGE gathering.
It's hard to compare an event like this to something you'd see in the United States -- the US has never been a big player in the soccer, cricket or rugby international tournaments, so perhaps something like the Olympics is the only comparison. I've never been a huge sports guy, but you have to get swept up in it all. It is cool to see how tourists from the 20 nations have swarmed into town -- a peculiar mix of countries from rugby standards like England, Australia and South Africa to a dashing of proud Pacific Island nations like Tonga, Samoa and Fiji and then a few "what the heck" countries like Romania and Namibia.
While there's a certain sense of craziness and inconvenience to it all it's also kind of a cool thing to witness. You either ride with something like this or you waste energy getting annoyed at it. Right now for rugby-heads New Zealand is the centre of the universe. And for the next six weeks, it'll continue to be.