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The Land of the Long White Cloud

The Land of the Long White Cloud

We are told that New Zealand or Aotearoa (the Land of the Long White Cloud) was discovered by the brilliant Polynesian navigator Kupe some time around 950 AD.

According to Maori legend, the South Island, where Ireland will spend the first two weeks of their tour, was the canoe or waka from which the great adventurer Maui fished the North Island from the depths of the ocean. Whatever about the veracity of this story it might explain why the region is so wet although since our arrival on Monday June 3rd the Irish party have been treated to unusually bright sunny weather.

The four principal cities on the island are Nelson in the north, Christchurch mid-way down, and Dunedin and Invercargill in the south.

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Timaru, (the place of shelter) home to the Ireland squad for the first week, is 163 kilometres south of Christchurch and according to the AA guide is an excellent starting point for those who take their relaxing seriously. The town has a population of 27,323 and the commercial life centres around it’s busy port, the surrounding farmland and the tourist industry. The town is set out as are most settlements in New Zealand, in a square pattern which makes navigation extremely easy.

The journey from the team base at the Grosvenor Hotel on Cairns Terrace to the training ground (and match venue) at the Alpine Energy Stadium takes not much more than ten minutes or a pleasant stroll on wide streets past small neat wooden structured houses.

It’s been a good place to start the tour with the people involved from the New Zealand side only too willing to accommodate.

Wally Bell is General Manager/CEO at the South Cantebury Rugby Union whose base (Alpine Energy Stadium) the Irish use for training. Wally is a Scot who claims Irish ancestry but we’re not too sure. There are 27 seven unions in New Zealand and each has a Wally Bell type figure. Very much a hands on type of guy, Wally spent last Saturday blanking out the perimeter advertising with groundsman Joe Gaffaney. Bell, who was born and bred in Timaru of parents who were also born in the area – which makes him a True Roman – played on the wing for South Cantebury in an era that included Ian Kirkpatrick and Fergie McCormack. He has been CEO for South Cantebury for the past three years having previously been Branch Manager of a Trustee Accounting firm in Timaru.

Head Groundman, Joe Gaffaney has definite Irish roots as has Coaching Director Tony Kelly. Pat McKillop a retired school teacher, has an Irish grandmother and he still keeps contact with relations in Roscrea.. Just across the road from our hotel Terry O’Driscoll runs the Hotel and Terry’s ancestors come from the Cork/Kerry region.

On Sunday (June 9th) we move on from our place of shelter and take the 206 kilometre drive south to Dunedin.