Brian O’Driscoll and his team-mates were genuinely touched by the warmth of the welcome they received on arrival at Queenstown Airport earlier today.
The decibel level was raised for Ireland’s travelling party, led by head coach Declan Kidney and team captain Brian O’Driscoll, as they made their way through the arrivals hall at Queenstown Airport.
Hundreds of Ireland fans were on hand to cheer and sing for the players and coaches, who stopped to sign autographs and pose for photographs after touching down on New Zealand soil on Thursday afternoon.
Bedecked in green and waving flags and singing loudly, hundreds of schoolkids from the region made their presence felt as O’Driscoll and company made their way outside the terminal for an official welcome ceremony.
Even though Declan Kidney’s men were warmly greeted by the locals, there was a touch of good humour in the air with one sign from Tarras School pupils proclaiming, ‘Go Ireland, but the All Blacks will win!’
Queenstown Lakes District Council Mayor Vanessa van Uden formally welcomed the Ireland players, coaching staff and team officials to the resort town in Otago, urging them to feel right at home during their seven-day stay.
They were treated to a ‘Powhiri’, the traditional Maori welcome, from a local Kapa haka group.
Ngai Tahu kaumatua Michael Skerrett, of Waihopai runanga, spoke movingly and welcomed the visitors with ‘hongis’, the warm nose-to-nose, forehead-to-forehead Maori greeting.
O’Driscoll, who led the squad in a rendition of Christy Moore’s ‘Ride On’ song, said: “I have to say how absolutely blown away we are by both the people of Queenstown and the fans who have turned out here to welcome us.
“And most importantly, thanks to all these children who have come out to cheer us and wave all these Irish flags. They’ve done an incredible job.
“We’re delighted to finally be here. There’s been a huge build-up for us with some tough calls (in terms of squad selection).
“There’s some very good players left behind. But this is the squad we’ve picked for the World Cup and one we think can go all the way.”
Ireland will be based in Queenstown until next Thursday when they fly to New Plymouth, the venue for their opening Rugby World Cup Pool C match against the USA on Sunday, September 11.