South African coach Peter de Villiers promised to "try to behave" and live up to the honour bestowed on him after being declared an honorary Maori when the team received their official welcome to Wellington on Monday.
He and the team were made honoured guests of the local Taranaki Whanui, meaning their hosts were now traditionally obliged to cheer for them - but with the quietly spoken caveat that all bets are off should they happen to come up against New Zealand during the latter stages of World Cup 2011.
"Not only am I an honorary Maori, but I'm an honorary citizen of Wellington," De Villiers said.
"I'll try to behave myself in the manner that people can be proud of."
The South African players walked to the Powhiri (welcome) from their team hotel along the Wellington waterfront in bright sunshine, escorted by a waka, a Maori canoe.
Before entering the Te Raukura hall, they were confronted by kaiwero (warrior) Toa Waaka, who laid down a piece of vine or rau for captain John Smit to pick up as a signal the team had come in peace.
“Thank you very much, it has been overwhelming, both leaving South Africa and arriving here in New Zealand,” said Smit.
“The bulk of the team have been thankful for the way we have been received and we will need to embrace Wellington as our home for the next two or three weeks and hopefully come back here in a few weeks time [for the quarterfinals].”
After the welcome speeches, each player was presented with his World Cup cap and a gift of a green stone amulet in a small woven bag.
Responding to the welcome, De Villiers said the team were "humbled" by the reception and asked the audience to remember the people of Christchurch still recovering from devastating earthquakes.
"They were terrible circumstances. But we all know there's a greater hand that will take the bad and find the good in it," he said.
"Your character is bold, as it should be, and we are grateful you could still have us in your country."
Smit highlighted that it was his fourth trip to Wellington this year and joked that he probably knew his New Zealand cell phone number better than the one he uses at home.
The team also received their official World Cup caps while they chose the South African national anthem as their song of choice - a Maori tradition - after listening to a kaikorero welcome creed.
De Villiers also gave his charges a few word of encouragement.
“To my boys, there are 50 million people in our hearts and a great responsibility that comes with it in what may be the greatest event of our lives.”
South Africa's first Pool D match is against Wales in Wellington on 11 September. Their other opponents in the pool are Fiji, Samoa and Namibia.
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