Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Royalty in Town as Kiwis Prove a Big Hit

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Royalty in Town as Kiwis Prove a Big Hit

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Smith @markismith50

RUGBY royalty has descended on Darlington, New Zealand's worldchampion All Blacks settling into North East life ahead of Friday's St James' Park skirmish with Tonga.

Relaxed, amenable and talkative, they made favourable first impressions on the locals, as has the town on the Kiwi journalists following their national side around the UK.

The All Blacks are already assured of a quarter-final place before a ball has even been kicked at the home of Newcastle United.

A light-hearted press conference saw six players discussing topics including England's exit, Australia's growth, the National Rugby League grand final and Newcastle United's diminished status as a Premier League football force. "Guys, I've been told we have to try something called a parmo before we leave Darlington," joked their team media manager, the All Blacks settling into their Hurworth hideaway.

For Darlington Mowden Park rugby club, their arrival was a landmark moment.

Less than three years ago, their home was two muddy pitches in the middle of a nondescript housing estate. Now they have the biggest dedicated club rugby stadium in England and the world champions will train there all week.

"Pretty flash, eh?" smiled hooker Keven Mealamu when asked about the town's arena. "A 25,000-seater training ground. It's awesome."

Their outreach into the community will include a training session with children on Thursday, watched by 4,000 supporters. It could have been many more, the allocation of free tickets going within a single day.

World Cup excitement has taken Tyneside by storm, more than 50,000 in St James' Park to see South Africa's 34-16 triumph over Scotland on Saturday. The fanzone drew 34,000 bodies, a single-day tournament record which beat the previous best of Brighton by 4,000. …

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