Rugby World Cup kicks off in style
Thousands of tiny lights, bobbing in the darkness as if on a gently rolling sea, today welcomed the world to New Zealand and the 7th Rugby World Cup.
A spectacular opening ceremony lit the touchpaper for the tournament before 60,000 fans at Auckland's revamped Eden Park. It was a show of drama, music, movement and intrigue that encapsulated the appeal of this faraway country at the bottom of the world.
New Zealand's appeal is not primarily of its history or architecture; rather, its aesthetic beauty. And the ceremony sought to capture that image.
Lazers of light that travelled at speed against a backdrop of mountains, rivers, streams and gorges underlined the many geographical attractions of this land. The natural beauty and clear waters and air were portrayed by human and visual images.
The diverse landscape is an integral part of New Zealand and it was beautifully reflected in the show. Humans calling out acrossd the darkened stadium portrayed an image of New Zealand calling to the rest of the world to join it at this tournament.
One of the most effective parts was a portrayal of the seas which surround these two islands and across which so many travellers have come to settle in New Zealand. On a flickering image that portrayed water came small, mock-up sailing boats, which glided serenely across the fake waters.
But rugby inevitably played a key role, for it is the sport most beloved of the New Zealanders.
A young boy raced through groups of rugby men, weaving and bobbing before 'scoring' a precious try. At the climax of this section of the show, the blond haired boy was lifted into the night sky above the stadium, finally touching a giant ball with the logo 'Rugby World Cup 2011' writ large upon it. His soaring ascent symbolised his dreams of one day fulfilling the ambition of every young New Zealand boy - to become a famous All Black.
Individual pieces of specially composed music provided a backdrop and the legendary Jonah Lomu was the sole ex-All Black asked to participate. It was a fusion of different cultures and sounds that created a completely new interpretation of the Rugby World Cup, a very different, New Zealand style image of a game that has captivated this nation since earliest times in the sport.
Inevitably, the politicians were there, appearing from behind a giant version of the Webb Ellis Cup to address the crowds when the show was completed. But New Zealand Prime Minister John Key made an elementary blunder, talking about the 'Webb Ellis trophy' rather than 'Webb Ellis Cup' as it is known.
Amid the drama and beneath a clear night sky of early spring, fireworks roared into the night from behind one of the main stands.
The anthem for the official World Cup song, 'World in Union' was performed by 350 choir members, 100 ukelele players and 50 Cook Island Log drummers. In all, 1,000 performers took part in the opening ceremony.
It was not as slick as one of those French spectaculars we have come to know; it wasn't as dramatic as a Mediterranean firework festival. Nor was it overly long, but that was a welcome factor.
Yet in its simplicity it somehow encapsulated the spirit, the beauty and joie de vivre that all New Zealand shares at the staging of this Rugby World Cup.