Rugby World Cup 2011
Lomu highlights RWC spectacle
Jonah Lomu (AFP)
Auckland - All Blacks rugby legend Jonah Lomu and a giant flying ball were the highlights Friday as the Rugby World Cup opened in a blaze of colour and excitement in New Zealand's biggest city.GALLERY: RWC Opening Ceremony
Lomu and a plethora of other rugby greats headlined the festivities before International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Bernard Lapasset opened the seventh World Cup, triggering a spectacular fireworks display in Auckland's harbour.
"Over the course of this event New Zealand will play host to around about 100 000 visitors from overseas," said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
"We welcome you all to New Zealand and hope you enjoy the very best of what we have to offer... Most of all have a good time, enjoy the rugby - and go the mighty All Blacks!"
Hosts New Zealand and Pacific rivals Tonga were due to play the opening game in front of a packed house at Auckland's Eden Park Stadium, the first of 48 games culminating in a final at the same venue on October 23.
Smiling and excited spectators clad in New Zealand black or the red of Tonga started gathering two hours before the ceremony at the refurbished, 60 000-seat stadium in an inner suburb of the city of 1.3 million people.
Several Pacific leaders were among the dignitaries as fans clutching flags and glowing lights enjoyed the 25-minute opening spectacular.
The ceremony, featuring 1 000 volunteers and video images beamed on to the pitch, drew heavily on New Zealand's pre-colonialist Maori heritage as it traced the country's mythical ancient origins and strong rugby tradition.
A rookie player depicted by schoolboy Ethan Bai flew 20 metres (65 feet) into the air to catch a glowing, four-metre rugby ball before being taken by Lomu to a 15-metre replica of the World Cup trophy, the Webb Ellis Cup.
Lomu, the tournament's record try-scorer with 15 in 1995 and 1999, was joined by the leading try-getters 18 of the other World Cup nations apart from Russia, which is making its debut in the tournament.
Tens of thousands of cheering fans had crowded key spots around the city from mid-afternoon as the tournament finally got underway, six years after New Zealand was awarded hosting rights.