As the build up to the Rugby World Cup nears, Whakatāne cashed in on a little of the hype with a visit from All Blacks Liam Messam, Sam Cane and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Whakatāne was one of 10 winners of an All Blacks to the Nation competition allowing fans around the country an opportunity to get up close and personal with the players.
The Eastern Bay of Plenty is passionate about grassroots rugby. So fans were ecstatic to have All Blacks Liam Messam, Sam Cane and Tawera Kerr Barlow in the region.
Pouroto Ngaropo says, “This is a very strong and supportive town. Today we witness the fruits of our work and the arrival of the All Blacks. The whole of Whakatāne and the Mātaatua region are here in support.”
The three rugby players were greeted with a huge haka from the locals.
All Blacks to the Nation is a campaign enabling the players to visit towns, schools and clubs before they head to the Rugby World Cup. The tour gives fans the opportunity to show their support.
Maddison Himiora-Jones says, “Come on New Zealand, let us support and encourage our team.”
Miriama Himiona says, “A lot of my families play rugby and encourage and support the All Blacks.”
Schools in predominantly Māori communities like Te Teko and Ruatoki are passionate about the sport, so making the journey to Whakatāne was important for students to catch a glimpse of their favourite players.
Pou Temara says, “Rugby is really good, because it's tangible and it gets your heartbeat going.”
The players continued their journey to Ōpōtiki this afternoon where they were greeted by another huge crowd.