The Wales Rugby World Cup squad received an impressive welcome when they landed in New Zealand yesterday afternoon (Friday), immediately greeted with the impromptu sounds of ‘Land of My Fathers’ as they moved through the arrivals gate of the Kiwi capital.
Throngs of ex-pats interspersed with native New Zealanders cheered them through Wellington airport whilst a traditional dancing troupe offered up the added honour of an official Maori Welcome.
Autograph hunters and well wishers clamoured for the attention of the players with the likes of Stephen Jones and head coach Warren Gatland also in demand from a host of television crews amidst the constant flashing of newspaper photographers’ cameras.
Gatland in particular was greeted like a returning son, with local news channels claiming him as ‘former All Black Gatland’, before any reference to him as being the coach of Wales.
“It was a real lift for everyone after leaving Wales on Wednesday to finally arrive on the other side of the world to the sounds of our national anthem straining through the arrivals lounge,” said assistant coach Robin McBryde.
“The locals had really made the effort to come out to see us, we had the honour of an official Maori welcome when we toured here last summer so we knew what to expect in that respect.
“It's an impressive sight in itself but to see all the expats and even the Kiwis in their Wales shirts and our national flag wherever you look really made us feel at home.
“We are in the same hotel as we stayed in last summer, so most of the players are in familiar surroundings and have settled in quickly.
“We will dust off the cobwebs with a short walk around the city and then get some good rest in before our first training session in the morning.
“But we have sampled the buzz of the Rugby World Cup in the short time we have been here already and everyone is excited about the challenges ahead.”