Rugby fans savor return of live stadium action in coronavirus-free New Zealand

Spectators watch the Super Rugby Aotearoa rugby game between the Highlanders and Chiefs in Dunedin, New Zealand, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 13 June 2020

Rugby fans savor return of live stadium action in coronavirus-free New Zealand

  • New Zealand on Saturday became one of the first nations in the world to welcome hordes of fans back into a packed sports stadium

DUNEDIN, New Zealand: They call one section of the stadium The Zoo, and it's easy to see why: thousands of university students in team colors standing on their seats, steadying trays of drinks, swaying to music and erupting with joy when their team scores.
“Craziness,” is how 20-year-old student Charlotte Power described the scene. “Dancing, partying. Hopefully no fights.”
New Zealand on Saturday became one of the first nations in the world to welcome hordes of fans back into a packed sports stadium, thanks to the country's remarkable success in eliminating the coronavirus.
As countries try to reopen after lockdowns, the evening rugby match marked a milestone of sorts, and its importance wasn’t lost on fans.
After instituting a strict lockdown in March, New Zealand has not reported any new cases of the coronavirus for more than three weeks, and says all those who contracted the disease have now recovered. Earlier in the week, the country removed just about every remaining virus restriction, with the notable exception of keeping the border closed.
That meant there were no masks or social distancing required when more than 20,000 fans poured into the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to watch Saturday's match between the local Highlanders and the Chiefs, who had traveled from Hamilton.




Spectators watch the Super Rugby Aotearoa rugby game between the Highlanders and Chiefs in Dunedin, New Zealand, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (AP)

“It's massive,” the country's sports minister, Grant Robertson, said on the sidelines. “It's a world first and it’s a payoff for all the hard work of 5 million New Zealanders.”
Robertson said he's been fielding calls from India and beyond from people curious to know how professional sports can proceed without virus restrictions. He said there's something special about being at a game.
“Anyone who’s a fan of live sport or even live music knows that if you're there, it’s totally different,” he said.
For fan Iki Uele, it was a pleasure just seeing all the people.
“Everyone has been dying for this moment,” he said. “Being locked down, we just needed something to vent out.”
Uele said he did have concerns that somebody in the crowd might have the virus without knowing it. But he was willing to take the chance.
German exchange student Johanna Lindner said she'd never watched a rugby match before, and people back home were both curious and perhaps a little envious.
“It's a great opportunity to socialize again,” she said. “To bring the country together since New Zealand is turning into one bubble. I think it’s really important to lift people’s mood a little bit.”




Spectators cheer during the Super Rugby Aotearoa rugby game between the Highlanders and Chiefs in Dunedin, New Zealand, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (AP)

Peter Miskimmin, the chief executive of government agency Sport New Zealand, said the return of stadium games is enormously significant, and that sports are part of the nation's DNA.
“I don’t think anyone has yet replicated that sense of excitement of being in a crowd, and the passions that flow from that,” he said. “To be in a stadium and to feel it, and to even influence the game. The players know that the crowd is there.”
During Saturday's match, the momentum, and the lead, swung back and forth. The crowd got a laugh and a break from the mounting tension when a streaker wearing nothing but shoes braved the frigid winter weather and burst across the field. Then, with 2 minutes left on the clock, the home team scored a go-ahead drop goal.
As the final hooter sounded and the Highlanders kicked out the ball to win 28-27, the fans screamed and hugged. The players slapped each other on their backs and embraced.
All thoughts of social distancing were long gone.


‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

Updated 23 October 2020

‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

PARIS: Gareth Bale said it felt good to be “loved and appreciated” after helping Tottenham to a 3-0 win over LASK of Austria in the Europa League on Thursday.
The Welsh international started his first match since his return from Real Madrid and played for an hour before Jose Mourinho gave him a break.
Bale had come on as a substitute last Sunday with Tottenham 3-0 up against West Ham before his team collapsed to give up a 3-3 draw.
“It is amazing to be back,” Bale told BT Sport on Thursday.
“It is a big reason why I play well and why I came back. You want to be loved and appreciated. I will give everything for this shirt.”
However, he admitted it will take time to find his feet.
“I am a bit stiff. It is like a mini pre-season for me and I am trying to get minutes into the legs,” he said.
Despite Bale starting, it was on-loan Carlos Vinicius who made an impressive debut in the Group J opener.
Vinicius started in place of the resting Harry Kane and he made goals in either half for Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min, while he would have also netted himself had Andres Andrade not scored an own goal.
Bale made that goal where Andrade put through his own net.
Leicester made the perfect start in Group G with a comfortable 3-0 win over Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine.
James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho were on the scoresheet.
In Glasgow, Celtic struggled against Serie A leaders AC Milan who were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz.
Mohamed Elyounoussi reduced the arrears after the break, but Jens Petter Hauge broke clear to secure Milan’s Group H 3-1 win in stoppage time.
Milan were so comfortable that they could afford to take off Zlatan Ibrahimovic just after the hour.
Earlier Thursday, Arsenal came from behind to down Rapid Vienna 2-1 and Rangers beat Standard Liege 2-0.
After a goalless first half Arsenal went behind when keeper Bernd Leno fluffed a clearance on a night he will want to forget.
Taxiarchis Fountas capitalized on Leno’s clanger, much to the joy of the 3,000 home fans allowed in to watch under coronavirus safety protocol, but the Gunners then turned the game around in four second half minutes.
David Luiz put them level with a deft glancing header off Nicolas Pepe’s free-kick, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then tapping home to bag the three Group B points.
It was an eventful night for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Alongside eight yellow cards, there was an eye-catching display from Thomas Partey on his first start since his transfer deadline day move from Atletico Madrid.
A frustrated follower of the game from his London sofa was Mesut Ozil, who has been left out of both Arsenal’s Europa League and Premier League squad.
“When I can’t support on the pitch tonight, I will support in front of the TV in London.” tweeted Ozil.
The other Group B game was being played out in Dublin where Dundalk, only Ireland’s third ever representative in the group stage, were beaten 2-1 by Norwegians Molde.
In Belgium, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers took on Standard Liege fresh from their Old Firm derby win over Celtic which moved them four points clear in the Scottish Premiership last weekend.
James Tavernier scored from the spot after Noe Dussenne handled in the area to put them into a 19th minute lead.
Then three minutes into stoppage time Kemar Roofe produced a wonder goal from the halfway line, the ball flying over the head of bewildered keeper Arnaud Bodart.
Benfica had claimed the first goal of the night and they went on to beat Lech Poznan in Poland 4-2 in the other Group D game.
Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen ran riot 6-2 against French side Nice and Spanish side Granada, in their first ever European campaign, beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1.