It’s almost game time. At Eden Park tomorrow night the Black Ferns and England will clash for the crown of world champions.
The women in black have inspired a generation of girls to dream of Rugby World Cup glory.
Among them is five-year-old Delta Simanke who has the honour of delivering the match ball for tomorrow night’s hugely anticipated final.
Delta has been in awe of her heroes during her first taste of rugby. “I like it when the girls score a try,” she said.
Winger Ruby Tui has quickly become Delta’s favourite player. “Because I like the pink strip in her hair.”
As for her prediction on Saturday and the side she hopes to one day represent, the answer was the same.
“The Black Ferns!”
Former Black Ferns skipper and NZ Rugby board member Farah Palmer said she was super amped on a personal and professional level.
“This is the culmination of lots of work behind the scenes from the players and tournament organisers and I just can’t wait.”
Palmer said the tournament had been a resounding success.
“We had a theme of unstoppable energy and this is a sign of things to come for the growth of the game for women and girls.”
The hall-of-famer said the fans had created an amazing atmosphere.
“Everyone is joyful, super enthusiastic, the teams and games have been so uplifting.”
Palmer said the side had shown incredible tenacity.
“They were up against it after a tumultuous couple of years and I just know they have done all they can, so far they have shown us the magic. I’m sure they will show the magic they have left in them even though they must be pretty tired. It’s going to be an epic game.”
Hospitality expecting ‘a big weekend’
The bars surrounding Eden Park are also set for a big night.
Clare Inn owner Suzanne Harley-Conway said the crowds had brought a great energy to the bars.
“It’s exciting, there will be plenty of people around and good vibes. We are looking to have a big weekend for it and hopefully we get the right result for this country.”
Harley-Conway said they had seen punters from across the globe during the tournament.
As an Englishman-turned-Kiwi, The Bridgman restaurant and bar owner Sean Lee was delighted with the match-up.
“It’s a different crowd to a normal All Blacks’ event, it’s a bit more family friendly atmosphere.”
Lee said due to the expectations around the men’s team, enjoyment often fell by the wayside.
“I feel like people get a bit nervous around the All Blacks’ games but this definitely seems more freewheeling, more fun and festive.”
Auckland Unlimited head of major events Chris Simpson said financial forecasts from the tournament were set to surpass expectations.
“We have done some economic estimates prior to the tournament and we were expecting 5000 visitors, $3.6 million in GDP return and 27,100 visitor nights. We dont know the final numbers but given the popularity and sold-out crowds we are hoping those numbers will be more than that.”
Simpson said Tāmaki Makaurau would welcome the tournament back with open arms.
“Seeing Eden Park sold out for the final and a projected television audience that hopefully might surpass the semifinals of over a million, it’s a dream come true for the Rugby World Cup.”
Police said they had been very pleased with the behaviour of fans to date.
“There have been a few minor incidents, all of which were swiftly dealt with by police and event security, but for the most part, the atmosphere at the games have been family friendly and happy.”
Police said they hoped this would continues during Saturday’s showdown.
“We hope to see successes both on and off the pitch.”
Tournament director ‘proud’
Tournament director Michelle Hooper said not only was she was thrilled to see the Black Ferns make the final, but selling out Eden Park twice during the cup had exceeded expectations.
“We’re really proud of what has been able to be delivered here and the fans of New Zealand for coming out and supporting women’s rugby as they have.”
Hooper said it had been critical to get the tournament off to a great start by selling out Eden Park for the opening day’s double-header.
“We knew once they came, the game would sell itself because as everybody’s seen, the heroes are the players.
“The game that they play is wonderful, the rugby is so exciting and dynamic, and once people take the time to watch it and appreciate it rugby-loving fans can’t help but want to turn up for the next game.”
International TV viewing figures, while not available yet, had been impressive also, she said.
Last Saturday night one million people watched the domestic TV coverage of the Black Ferns’ semifinal against France. She hoped people would have “watch parties” at home tomorrow.
As for criticism that there have been no fan zones, she compared women’s rugby to a start-up business.
“There was no proven market here [before the latest RWC].”
At the last Rugby World Cup held in Ireland in 2017 34,000 fans attended in total – so far 140,000 people have attended matches in Aotearoa.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz