By Mike Petri
Kia Ora! We are finally in New Zealand and it has been nonstop action since we've been here.
I believe I heard more than once on our flight here: "I'm never flying economy again!". Our entire squad flew Business Premier class from Los Angeles to Auckland thanks to the Rugby World Cup and Air New Zealand. I must say that it was the most comfortable flight I've ever been on. We each had our own personal space with a seat that fully pulled out into a bed. After a good, hard few days of training in Santa Barbara it was a welcomed way to travel and get a solid 8 hours of sleep in the air!
After landing in Auckland and connecting to our first base camp in Wanganui on a small plane, we were welcomed by the Wanganui mayor herself as well as other locals, USA fans, and Maori dignitaries. It was pretty awesome to get such a warm welcome from everyone. The picture in the newspaper the next day was classic - John Van der Giessen looked like the President of the United States as he was the first to exit the plane and greeted his fans with a big wave.
We also have our own brand new, private coach bus with our Eagles logo and the Rugby World Cup logos running along the side!
A few hours after landing in Wanganui it was time to shake out the jet lag in our legs and have a light practice in the afternoon. It was a pretty early evening after that. Most guys checked in for bed early to get some rest. I was trying to fight my jetlag and stay awake for a little but it didn't really work out. I fell asleep around 8:30pm and woke up at 12:30am with all the lights and tv on wondering where the heck I was!
A few days later, we had our formal welcome ceremony. It was an unforgettable experience to be welcomed by the Maori warriors and receive our 2011 Rugby World Cup caps. During the ceremony, a police officer informed us that we should not make ANY movements forward during the Warriors' routine, even to take a picture, or else we would then be accepting their challenge and then they would have to fight us... He was dead serious! So we watched in awe as the Maori people gave an incredible display of singing and a scary warrior dance routine (think the Haka but large Maori men in war paint with spears).
Todd Clever expressed our gratitude on behalf of the team and even threw out some of his best Maori words!
After the ceremony we paddled up the river as a team. There were thousands of people along the river banks and it was an absolutely incredible experience.
Wednesday was our day off so James Patterson set up a team day at Rathmoy Lodge not far from our hotel. Most of the squad came and we were treated to a number of activities including river boating and sheep shearing. It was incredible to see the professionals at work with the sheep. They were in the farm house with the music blasting and just grabbing sheep from the pen to shear. We all were able to give it a try and it was a really cool experience. We were able to get the job done but not nearly as quickly as the professionals, who can shear about 800 sheep in a single session! I can't say I ever thought I'd shear a sheep but I'm really happy I gave it a shot. Mr. Great Outdoors himself, John Van Der Giessen, was impressed and pleasantly surprised by my city kid efforts to get involved in such an activity. We were also treated to an incredible meal and absolutely delicious homemade scones with jam and fresh whipped cream.
We went back to training and then prepared to leave Wanganui for our next base in New Plymouth. However, before leaving, I had the pleasure of making a visit to Wanganui Hospital to see Victor, an American from San Francisco now living with his wife in New Zealand. I was deeply humbled by this experience. Victor is an amazing man with such a positive and vibrant attitude and I was glad I could be there to support him through a difficult time.
En route to New Plymouth we made another stop as a team to visit a school in Taranki to meet local school kids, fans, and political officials. It was incredible to see the overwhelming support from everyone. The kids were so excited to play a game of touch with us and get some pictures and autographs. It was yet another unforgettable experience of Rugby World Cup 2011, and the pool games haven't even started!
Until next time... GO EAGLES!!!
Check back with Rugby Rugby for more insights from the Eagles camp throughout the Rugby World Cup
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