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The USA team drove in to New Plymouth last week, and on the bus ride in a group of schoolchildren gathered by the roadside, waving USA flags.
“That blew a lot of guys away," said USA Coach Eddie O'Sullivan. "We didn’t even get to stop at that school, but it really was extraordinary that this school took the time to come out of class and wait for the bus to pass. For me, that was fantastic. These kids didn’t even get to meet the team, but they wanted to be out to welcome us through their town, even if it was at 30 miles an hour.”
It was all part of how the country of New Zealand has welcomed all the teams. Drive through Te Kuiti, the home of All Black legend Colin "Pinetree" Meads, and you see a giant kiwi statue in All Black colors, of course, but then flags of all nations flying over the streets.
Walk down New Plymouth and the Stars and Stripes is evident on every block. The fan zone, which features a museum display on the history of Taranaki Rugby, is open to fans all day and night.
"It's all part of the attitude that we are a stadium of four million," said Antony Rhodes of Venture Taranaki. "We are a small country, but we're going to make sure that every team is welcome, and that we have good crowds in every stadium."
"We want the All Blacks to win," said Taranaki Rugby Union president Lyall Bunn. "But we also want it to be a good tournament. With the USA staying in Taranaki we are pulling for them, and really happy to see them do well."
The feeling is repeated all over the country, as fans make a nod to the fact that they want ... even need ... the All Blacks to win, they also hope the teams they are hosting do well.
There will be little trouble of those good feelings following the Eagles as they travel to Wellington for September 23rd's clash with Australia. That Stadium of 4 Million will all be pulling for the Eagles to down the hated Wallabies, and suddenly you might see the Stars and Stripes in pubs and fan zones across the nation.