Back home for one Eagle
The United States Eagles are ready to take on Italy in front of a capacity crowd in Nelson tomorrow night, buoyed by an enthusiastic band of supporters who turned out to greet them at Nelson Airport on Saturday. Among them was Sheila Street, of Nelson, draped in a huge stars and stripes flag, waiting to greet her daughter Vicki Yates' partner, Eagles team member Junior Sifa. The American Samoan-born is a former Nelson Bays and Tasman Makos player.
The Eagles appeared bruised on their arrival following a rough game with Australia the night before, which saw the Eagles trounced 67-5 but not before causing a few casualties in the Aussie ranks.
"It was definitely a physical game, but it's in the rear view mirror and our eyes are on Italy," Eagles forward John Van der Giessen said.
He was one of several who stopped to chat and sign autographs for the band of supporters in Nelson, made up of visitors following the team, expats and locals with a passion for the US.
"I love everything about America," said Sasha Kerslake, of Nelson, whose son Jack was collecting autographs.
Bryan and Carolyn Cooke from Greeley, Colorado, are in New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup, and decked out in red, white and blue to welcome their home team.
They were not fazed by the loss to Australia on Friday night: "Wait until we play Italy," they said.
"We have a strong side against them."
Greg Spell, who comes from North Carolina but now lives in Nelson, was also there in full support, despite his love for the All Blacks and a preference for American football.
His North Carolina vehicle licence plate was All Black, he said.
"It's awesome having the Eagles come here," said Mr Spell, who was looking forward to tomorrow's game which he predicted would be "very competitive".
Edie Manausala, of California, does not follow rugby, but extended her holiday in New Zealand to take in the World Cup game in Nelson.
She was at the airport to greet the team, and will go to the game tomorrow.
"I think they will be motivated after a brutal loss against Australia," she said.
Her friend and host, Leanne Bell, of Richmond, was also decked out in US regalia, and said she was expecting an "All Blacks/USA final", when asked which team she supported.
Mr Van der Giessen was not put off by his side being pitted against a team adopted by Nelson as its home team.
"There's plenty of red, white and blue here today," he said on Saturday.
Richmond will be a US host hotspot today and tomorrow, with a Stars 'n' Stripes Block Party being held at Sundial Square until 10 tonight, and an All Star Tailgate Party at the A & P showgrounds in lower Queen St tomorrow from 2pm to 7pm.
Buses will be running from the showgrounds to Trafalgar Park, where the two Pool C teams meet at 7.30pm tomorrow night, each with a dream of a quarterfinals spot in Rugby World Cup 2011.
Rugby New Zealand 2011 communications manager Mike Jaspers said 14,500 tickets to the game had sold to date, with only category-B tickets left.
There were only 1000 tickets left for Saturday's Australia v Russia game, with 15,500 sold to date.
"Our best advice to fans is buy now or you will risk missing out on a RWC experience, as we have seen plenty of evidence now that the demand for tickets picks up strongly close to matches," Mr Jaspers said.