England rugby coach Martin Johnson’s arrival yesterday firms up Queenstown as a front-runner to host the 2011 World Cup’s marquee team.
Johnson, who captained England’s 2003 World Cup-winning side, bussed into Queenstown at 11.45am with a three-man entourage. Bad weather had earlier diverted his flight to Invercargill.
Basing his team here during pool play is “a possibility”, Johnson, 39, tells Mountain Scene at Queenstown Airport, before adding their pool-play schedule included two games in Christchurch and one in Dunedin.
“I’m checking some of the venues,” he says – Rugby New Zealand 2011 plans to announce the team bases on December 18.
Asked how long the team might stay in Queenstown during rugby’s pinnacle event, Johnson replies: “That’s to be decided.”
Johnson reveals it’s his first trip to the resort. He has spent 18 months in the North Island resort town of Taupo, when playing for King Country early in his career. He also played for New Zealand under-21s and met and married a Kiwi.
“I’ve heard a lot [about Queenstown] and I’m looking forward to it,” he says.
He was scheduled to visit the Events Centre and Millbrook Resort, take Shotover Jet, gondola and helicopter rides, and dine at Botswana Butchery restaurant.
Destination Queenstown marketing boss Graham Budd says England is the ideal team to host from a tourism promotion point of view.
England would be followed by a huge contingent of supporters, many under the Barmy Army banner, as occurred when the British and Irish Lions toured NZ in 2005.
If England chooses Queenstown and follows previous form, the team will remain in the resort for the entire tournament.
During its successful 2003 World Cup in Australia, England based itself in Perth throughout.
The odds are Queenstown will host more than one team after Rugby NZ 2011 boss Martin Snedden stated that rather than base themselves in just one place for the five weeks of pool play, each team would rotate between three to six different locations.
Rumours are rife Queenstown could also host 2007 World Cup champions South Africa and third-placed Argentina.
Springbok players are familiar with the resort, having made regular training stops here with Super 14 teams since the 90s – on the other hand, their pool games will be in Wellington and Auckland’s North Shore.
The schedule of Argentina – in the same pool as England – suggests the Pumas are a more likely Queenstown prospect as its early fixtures are in Christchurch and Invercargill.
Budd expects the resort to be a favoured choice because the Events Centre has “world-class facilities” and the Wakatipu is not just stunning but also provides a relaxed environment.