The Fiji Times »Celebrations as Fans Return to Professional Sport

An overview of Hercules, to celebrate a Herculean effort.

Fans cheered as the New Zealand Air Force made a low pass over Eden Park on Sunday, moments before the kick-off between the Blues and Hurricanes in the first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

On the pitch, a simple message stands between the two teams. Thanks Aotearoa.

A message reiterated by the top five of the All Blacks, and the debutant of the Blues, Beauden Barrett after the game.

“It was about the return of rugby and everyone coming to support this team, as well as the Hurricanes.

“Just a celebration of rugby. You know, it’s great to come back and play and see the support, we were absolutely blown away by the support.

More than 60,000 attended the weekend’s matches in Auckland and Dunedin, the competition one of the first in the world to allow supporters since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

A sold-out crowd of 43,000 watched Barrett celebrate his Blues debut with a win over his former team, while nearly 20,000 were there to watch the Highlanders beat the Chiefs in dramatic fashion in the opener. of the Saturday night competition.

Having lost at the last minute against the sure foot of his son and Highlanders replacement back Bryn Gatland, Chiefs coach Warren Gatland still managed a wry smile.

“I guess if anyone had to do that it would be him in this situation,” the British Lions coach told Sky.

“No, I’m not happy we lost the game but, you know, kudos to him. I don’t care if he’s my son or not, I’m still disappointed with the result.

The same could be said for Hurricanes fans on Sunday, after one of their favorite sons contributed to their team’s demise.

Barrett said it was a fun way to start his Blues career.

“It’s been a long time coming and I’ve played this game a million times in my head, so it’s good to do it and put it aside.

“Obviously there’s this emotional hurdle to get over, playing all my mates and starting a new chapter in my career. Yes, very proud of the start.

It wasn’t quite the perfect start.

But the No 10 All Blacks saw the fun side of his failure to prevent Dane Coles from scoring a spectacular first-half try – and being caught among the Canes’ subsequent celebrations.

“It just happened in slow motion and it was almost as it was meant to be, so fair play for him.

“He’s pretty good in the wide channel and in space, so a guy like him should be able to finish someone like me again.”

Coles’ try was one of the few bright spots for the visitors, as a more clinical Blues team pulled out in the second half.

Afterwards, however, everyone who left was smiling. Even the ones in yellow and black.

And the final reward for the biggest Super Rugby crowd at Eden Park for 15 years was permission to come onto the pitch after the game.

Thousands of people took the opportunity to get an autograph or selfie from the players, and Blues coach Leon MacDonald said it was great to see.

“Even standing in Eden Park when you were a kid is a big thrill. Then being able to touch the players, get their signatures and say g’day is awesome.

“It feels [like] a bit of a throwback to the old days but it’s the right way and I think we’ve probably lost touch with that a bit.

“I know there will be many children who will remember this for a long time.”

A fitting end to a historic weekend for the New Zealand national game.

Sara R. Cicero