With the Rugby World Cup literally just around the corner I got one of those – would you like to – texts from Dave at In The Loose. In this instance it was, would I like to go to the launch of The AIG Touchline area on the South Bank adjacent to the OXO Tower, there would be some All Blacks in attendance. Naturally I had to think about it for all of 30 seconds, if that long! I do believe my reply went along the lines of YES PLEASE!
And so I woke up at stupid o’clock on a Saturday morning to get myself up to London in time for the event. I didn’t really have any idea what it was all about but I knew The Haka was going to be a centrepiece. Well, and a few of those Men In Black! The All Blacks had arrived the day before after a long flight but 8 of them arrived to be greeted by a traditional Haka . I’ve been lucky enough to see the All Blacks perform the Haka at both Twickenham and The Millennium Stadium. It’s become a habit at Twickenham to drown the All Blacks out with Swing Low Sweet Chariot, in Cardiff they watch with respect. I have to confess I much preferred actually being able to hear as well as see the action.
This Haka was performed by a group in traditional dress and wow they made a good job of it. It was wonderful to see the respect shown by the players to those who performed for them and interesting to see them greet each other by touching foreheads.
There were some household names amongst the 8 players who included Keiron Reid, Liam Messam, Wyatt Crockett, Aaron Finch and some more recent additions to the squad Sam Cane,- and Codie Taylor.
One of my personal favourite TV experts, as well as a record holding All Blank, Sean Fitzpatrick had taken to the stage with a BBC Presenter before the All Blacks arrived. He was asked about who he saw progressing from the group stages of the World Cup, in his opinion there are an obvious 7 who could win the thing, which he didn’t name so I’m going to guess as
With Argentina being the 8th team – there is of course a hole in that logic if I’ve picked the right 7, as only 2 of 3 in Group A can progress, Group B will produce a team from outside of that big 7. He pointed out that the host usually excels in a home World Cup and has featured in the final more often than not. Fingers crossed on that one!
In common with the rest of us Sean is very excited about the prospect of this World Cup, not only because of the emerging nations coming through but also because both the players and the coaching methods get better every year.
Sean spoke about the first World Cup explaining that Scotland had been reluctant to take part as they saw the tournament as a move towards professionalism. It was a very different time, the All Blacks were picked from a game between the Probables and the Possibles. Sean was in the latter, but progressed on to take part in the World Cup. He explained that he was more nervous about performing the Haka than the actual game in spite of the fact the team had been coached by a Maori elder. I imagine performing in front of the 16,000 who were at Eden Park for the first game was beyond scary!
One of the key parts of the event was to launch the AIG 360 degree Haka Experience; I’m going to go to the press release to explain just what that is –
“American International Group (AIG), major global sponsor of the All Blacks, is bringing rugby fans closer to the Haka than ever before. with the launch of its innovative virtual reality (VR) Haka 360 degree Experience.
The Haka 360 degree Experience is an app which uses 360 degree video technology to give the viewer the feeling of benign the field with the All Blacks and in the middle of the powerful Maori ritual.
Designed for smartphone, the Haka 360 degree Experience is available to download via the App Store or Google Play. Viewers can view the video on their handset or immerse themselves in the VR experience with a custom made Haka 360 degrees headset. http://www.haka360.com is the place to go to in order to find out more!
Steve Tew Chief Executive of New Zealand Rugby said “The Haka 360 Experience is an amazing opportunity for All Blacks fans and rugby enthusiasts all over the world to know what it’s like to face the power of the Haka. It’s a fantastic innovation to bring fans one step closer to the team”
Liam Messam said – “Performing the Haka is a huge source of pride for the All Blacks – it unites us as a team and creates an energy that we take into the game. To be able to share that feeling with our fans means a lot to the players”
Sean spoke to Liam on the stage about the Haka and how hard it can be on those not brought up in the tradition – his take on the day? The white brothers need more help when it comes to the Haka! That of course caused a few laughs all round!
To a man the 8 All Blacks were softly spoken, answering well, a few were easier with a microphone in their hands than others. It was a total privilege to be so close to players I’ve watched from afar for many years, Liam Messam and Kieran Reid in particular are real favourites of mine, well and the rest of the world I’d say! Oh, and neither were as big as I thought they’d be, height or size wise.
Once the formal part of the event was over both the players and Sean Fitzpatrick gave autographs and selfie’s galore and took great pleasure in doing so. I was able to grab a few words with Codie Taylor; as he’s a Hooker I had to ask him about the decision by Wales and Australia to take only 2 hookers, he did feel that for a prop to step in if there was a problem would be highly unusual. I asked who his favourite All Black had been, unsurprisingly it was Kevin Mealamu a man who will play in his 4th World Cup in a few weeks time. In common with many players Codie’s family had been the biggest influence in his rugby career. My last question was which so far had been his most memorable rugby moment – Codie didn’t hesitate – Playing South Africa at Ellis Park in front of 70,000 people! I wonder if the World Cup can replace that memory.
If you find yourself on the South Bank when the AIG Touchline area is up and running go and see what’s happening, there are some fun activities taking place, it’s well worth a visit!