Rugby World Cup opens in New Zealand

New Zealand All Blacks perform the haka before their Rugby World Cup match against Tonga at Eden Park The All Blacks performed their world-famous haka before the opening match against Tonga

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The Rugby World Cup has officially opened in New Zealand, described by Prime Minister John Key as the biggest event his country has staged.

Tens of thousands of rugby fans descended on Auckland for the glittering opening ceremony.

The first match between the All Blacks and Tonga then kicked off at Eden Park, with the hosts trouncing Tonga 41-10.

Matches will be held at stadia across the country except in Christchurch, devastated by the 22 February quake.

"It's incredibly exciting," Mr Key said as he went to Eden Park.

"New Zealand's done everything it can to be prepared, there's a really friendly atmosphere out there and people are loving what's going on."

The six-week World Cup event is the first in New Zealand since the inaugural tournament in 1987 - the last time the All Blacks won the title.

In Auckland, huge crowds gathered along the waterfront to watch events on big screens, many waving flags and dressed in the colours of the national team.

Rugby World Cup opening ceremony at Eden Park A capacity crowd watched the opening ceremony at Eden Park

At the stadium, the 60,000-strong crowd was transfixed as about 10 silver boats, on wheels, entered the pitch, supported by hundreds of dancers dressed in silver and white.

The theme of the opening ceremony was "the journey", with the boats representing the settlement of New Zealand.

Maori warriors then took to the field, performing a powerful haka.

The first match - a group qualifier between New Zealand and Tonga - kicked off at 2030 (0830GMT).

Tonga won a toss of the coin to perform their war dance, known as the sipi tau, first. The All Blacks then started their world-famous haka before the match got under way.

New Zealand won the match comfortably, scoring six tries to Tonga's one.

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said his team put in a good defensive performance and created scoring opportunities.

"We are excited about getting under way, it's been a long time coming and to play in front of a crowd like this is pretty cool," he said.

Quake appeal

Forty-eight matches will be played across the country over the next six weeks, in all major cities but Christchurch.

The earthquake there killed 181 people and large parts of the city have been written off as uninhabitable.

Christchurch, the most famous of all rugby cities in New Zealand, subsequently lost its rights to host seven World Cup matches.

The International Rugby Board has launched a fundraising appeal to bolster the rugby community in the area.

"The people in Christchurch are going to be in our hearts and our minds on many occasions during the tournament," said organising committee chairman Martin Snedden.

"It's been a tough 12 months in New Zealand. The country is ready to have fun. It's ready to have a party."

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