A special civic reception was held for the Ireland Rugby World Cup squad on Sunday at which they received their tournament caps and Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden officially welcomed them to New Zealand.
The Queenstown Skyline complex, overlooking Lake Wakatipu, was the venue for Ireland’s official welcome to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Hosted by Queenstown Lakes District Council Mayor Vanessa van Uden, the reception saw the Irish travelling party treated to a traditional Maori challenge and speeches of welcome from Ngai Tahu kaumatua Sir Tipene O’Regan and Michael Skerrett.
O’Regan, who has links with Clonakilty in Cork, wished the squad ‘every success, except the ultimate one’.
“But if you can deal with Australia along the way it would be greatly appreciated,” he added.
In an exchange of gifts, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll received a slab of greenstone (Pounamu) on a mounted plaque from Mayor van Uden, who wished the squad a ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’.
In return, O’Driscoll presented the Mayor with a Waterford Crystal gift and Denis Leamy led the squad through a rendition of Christy Moore’s ‘Ride On’.
Former Ireland prop and IRB Chairman Dr Syd Millar presented the players with their Rugby World Cup caps, along with Rugby New Zealand 2011 Director Paul Collins.
It was a proud personal moment for the men in green. 15 of those present are Rugby World Cup newcomers, with Cian Healy, who along with Gordon D’Arcy is due in Queenstown on Monday, another first-timer.
Millar gave his best wishes to the squad for the tournament in New Zealand. He recalled playing for the Lions in Wellington some 52 years ago, and taking a break in Queenstown during the tour. He told O’Driscoll and company to sample the culture and enjoy mixing with the locals.
Gearing up for his fourth World Cup, O’Driscoll said that the players and management are ‘very proud to be in a country where they eat, sleep and drink their rugby’.
Away from training, O’Driscoll and his team-mates have been getting a chance to experience some of the most popular attractions in Queenstown, which he agreed is ‘an incredible part of the world’.
There has been jet boating, luging, a helicopter tour and bungee jumping (for the braver members of the squad), and the Leinster centre also mentioned his visit to the town’s iconic Fergburger restaurant. “It was the best burger I’ve ever eaten,” he quipped.
60 local residents, who were chosen by ballot, community figures, journalists and members of Southern runanga also attended the reception.
To view some photos from the reception, click here.