Auckland - The seventh Rugby World Cup got
underway at Eden Park here on Friday with hosts New Zealand opening up
against Tonga as they bid to win the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time
in 24 years.
GALLERY: RWC Opening Ceremony
Bernard Lapasset, the French chairman of the
International Rugby Board (IRB) officially declared the tournament open
after a glittering 30-minute ceremony celebrating the country's Maori
heritage and unrivalled rugby pedigree.
"New Zealand will be an
exceptional host of the tournament which New Zealanders and rugby fans
alike will be proud of," said Lapasset, who has been head of the IRB
since the last World Cup in France four years ago, when South Africa's
Springboks emerged victorious.
At stake for the 30-strong All
Blacks squad was a glorious place in their country's history books
should they hold the golden trophy aloft at Eden Park on October 23 or,
should they fail, ignominy and opprobrium.
Tens of thousands of
fans, some of whom were from Australia, Europe and South Africa,
thronged Auckland's picturesque harbour waterfront, with impromptu
hakas, the celebrated Pacific Islands warrior dance, breaking out in
Eden Park, refurbished and enlarged for the
occasion, was packed to its 60 000 capacity as the opening ceremony
started and the anticipation moved up another gear as it drew to a close
and the All Blacks prepared to run onto the field.
The All Blacks
v Tonga clash was the first of a 48-match festival spread over 13
cities ranging from Whangerai near the tip of the North Island to
Invercargill 1 290 kilometres away on the bottom of the
England, the champions in Australia in 2003, were
among the eight teams in action on Saturday taking on Argentina in
Dunedin, while reigning champions South Africa had a tough opener in
store on Sunday against Wales.
A giant trophy is taken on the field during the opening ceremony of the
2011 Rugby World Cup at the Eden Park stadium in Auckland. (AFP)