By Mike Petri
After a great win against Russia we already reached the half way point in the tournament. It feels like we just landed yesterday!
Since we had back to back games at the start, we could now enjoy a good long break until our next game against Australia. We stayed in New Plymouth for the weekend and had 2 days off from rugby. It was a great opportunity to recover, mentally refresh, and spend time with friends and family who had made the long trip out to New Zealand to support us. My wife, Lauren, and I explored some local museums and cruised around downtown New Plymouth. Even though it was pretty chilly we took a walk down the beach and watched some local surfers do their thing for a little while on the waves. Pretty uneventful, but it was exactly what we both needed.
We landed in Wellington and were once again greeted with a traditional Maori welcome. Since it is a bigger airport, the ceremony wasn't on the tarmac but rather just outside the gate area. They sang and danced to greet us and welcome us to their home. I thought this was particularly cool because even when we left the small towns people were taking a real interest in the USA team and were really doing everything they could to make us feel welcome.
We got back on the horse in windy Wellington and started to prepare for Australia. With a lot of changes to the lineup the extra days between games proved valuable as they provided a good block of time to start working those new combinations. Practices were going well and all signs pointed to a good performance coming up against Australia. The guys were hungry, excited, and ready to take a shot at the heavyweight!
The non-starters for this game were invited to a rally/meet and greet with fans at a local elementary school. We were once again greeted in traditional Kiwi style, this time by the school's rugby team. They performed what was without question the scariest and coolest haka I have seen! It was definitely pretty intimidating. Then the school band played a great rendition of our national anthem before the US Ambassador took to stage and cracked a few jokes to get the crowd going. After some formal introductions, all of the players took a seat behind a long table in the gymnasium so the fans could get autographs and pictures. There were hundreds and hundreds of people lined up waiting to see us and get an autograph. It was totally awesome and everyone was so friendly, respectful, grateful, and supportive. Some people even gave us gifts! One little kid gave us all kiwi bird pins his grandfather had specially made for our team! It was humbling to chat with so many people from so many places throughout the world... and all of them were Eagles fans! I would have stayed there all night, but with Australia on the horizon in less than 48 hours, we had to say our goodbyes.
Since Wellington is a larger city, we encountered many more fans and were much more in the public eye on a daily basis. We also learned pretty quickly that just about all of New Zealand was a USA fan leading up to this game since they will basically cheer for anyone that is playing against the Wallabies! And it definitely felt like it in the Wellington "Caketin" Stadium that night! It was absolutely packed, even on the streets heading there. The USA support was overwhelming and the crowd was really pulling in our favor. Our guys definitely fed off of this energy and put up a great fight against the Aussies throughout the first half. The second half was a different story on the scoreboard, as the Aussies showed their experience and composure, but we walked off the field proud of our efforts and anxious to cross the white line again in a few days to square off with Italy!
Until next time... GO EAGLES!!!
Read more form the Mike Petri Rugby World Cup blog and check back for coming posts.
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