Hearty welcome for tourists
It’s not everyday Matamata junior rugby players get to play a game with All Black and Lions rugby legends on the sidelines.
But that’s exactly what happened when the Ride of the Legends New Zealand tour stopped in Matamata.
Ride of the Legends New Zealand 2017 was an exclusive weeklong cycling event from Wellington to Auckland.
Held from July 2-7, between the second and third tests of the 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour, the cycle helped raise funds for the Conductive Education charity, catering for children from birth through to adults who have a range of disabilities.
The tour included a host of rugby legends, such as former All Blacks Buck Shelford, Ian Jones and Frank Bunce, and Lions stars Peter Winterbottom and Roger Uttley.
Along the journey the tour stopped overnight at rugby clubs in Masterton, Palmerston North, Matamata and Thames.
The tour arrived in Matamata late Wednesday afternoon and headed to Bedford Park.
Junior rugby teams celebrated the arrival of their heroes with a rugby game.
In the second half the juniors played with a few of the Legends watching from the sidelines.
However United Matamata Sports Club captain Allen Pryor said the privilege may have been lost on the youngsters.
‘‘I think the parents got more of a buzz than the kids, cause a lot of the kids didn’t know who the players were. But once they were told they were former All Blacks, they were excited.’’
Pryor said the feedback he received from the tour organisers was Matamata put on the best welcome - and were the only stopover along the tour that involved children welcoming the players.
An auction was included in the evening, with the outcome sur- prising many.
A signed All Blacks jersey was auctioned off for $2050 and a rugby ball signed by Buck Shelford went for $500. Buckets to collect donations were also being passed around during the event.
‘‘They made $4000 from the auction,’’ said Pryor.
‘‘I thought it was ‘blimmin’ marvellous and fantastic for our little community.’’
Matamata Public Relations manager Sue Whiting said she was pleased with how warmly the club and the community welcomed the riders.
‘‘UMS put a great amount of effort into it, and they did a great job.’’