UPDATE Highlanders cheer up schoolkids upset by All Blacks’ hoax

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Arrowtown School kids who were the victims of a bizarre 
rugby hoax were all smiles today – when the Highlanders franchise stepped in to bring them some cheer.

Bosses from the Super 14 team were touched by a story in this week’s Mountain Scene revealing how the children were left in the lurch at the primary school last Sunday when they expected a training session with All Blacks who hadn’t made the touring squad.

They’d also been promised T-shirts and tickets to an international match by a woman who rang the school claiming to be from the New Zealand Rugby Union.

The kids were left close to tears when nobody showed and it turned out to be a hoax.

But the Years 3 and 4 pupils were thrilled when Highlanders’ junior rugby mascot Rugger travelled from Dunedin to surprise them with a heap of giveways including team posters, bandanas, flags and a ball.

There was even more good news when Queenstown Events Centre also promised the youngsters free tickets to the Highlanders v Western Force game there next April 10.

“This has really cheered the kids up because they felt pretty bad about the hoax,” Arrowtown School sports coordinator Paul Winders says. “It’s a great gesture from everyone who wanted to help.”

You scrum-bag

Thirty rugby-mad Arrowtown School kids and their teacher are gutted after what appears to be a cruel hoax.

The youngsters were left in the lurch when they turned up at the primary school last Sunday afternoon expecting a training session with All Blacks who hadn’t made the touring squad.

They’d been promised personalised T-shirts and free tickets to an international match by a woman claiming to be from the New Zealand Rugby Union. She specified touch-playing pupils.

Excitement peaked Sunday morning when the touring All Blacks demolished France 39-12 in their game of the season.

But by the afternoon some of the children – from Years 3 and 4 – were close to tears when nobody showed after they’d waited around for hours, school sports coordinator Paul Winders says.

“The woman phoned the school office on the Thursday and Friday to set it all up and she sounded so plausible,” Winders fumes.

“She said some All Blacks who had been left behind from their European tour were doing a bit of public relations and wanted to train the kids.

“I spent hours getting everyone organised at short notice. The kids were all pumped up but when we fronted up on Sunday there was nothing.”

Winders adds: “All we can assume is that someone has gone to long lengths to do this hoax but for what gain?
“It’s all very bizarre and it’s so disappointing.

“You just don’t think this would happen in your little primary school and our next step will be to contact the police.”

Some angry parents had scrapped other plans for the weekend to attend the bogus event.

Phil Rance’s nine-year-old son Tom pulled out of a swimming tournament in Balclutha the same afternoon, thinking he was going to meet his rugby heroes.

“Tom even wrote a letter of apology to his team-mates at Queenstown Swimming Club saying he really wanted to train with the All Blacks,” Rance says.

“The swim team ended up losing the junior cup in their age group and [Tom] is on the verge of tears that the All Blacks didn’t come and he feels he has let his swimming team down.

“The whole thing seems like an elaborate hoax and it was horrid to watch. It seems to be completely malicious.”

Another Arrowtown dad, Mark Collins, is seething about his kids Jaxon, 8, and Levi, 7, being affected.

“If this is a hoax it’s pretty below the belt,” Collins says. “We put everything else aside so the children could be there.

“It was a bit of a bugger and the kids are gutted as they’d been built up all weekend for something special.”

Teacher Winders called the NZ Rugby Union HQ in Wellington on Monday to be told they knew nothing about any PR exercise involving All Blacks in Arrowtown.

“The woman who had called the school to arrange things told our office staff her name was Kim,” Winders says.

“On Friday, she even took the names of all the kids who would be attending to get special shirts printed for them and talked about giving out tickets for an All Blacks match.

“But no one at either the NZRU or Touch NZ has heard of her and she hasn’t contacted us again so we can only assume it was a hoax.

“She didn’t leave her phone number and we have had no success in trying to trace where the call came from.
“I really feel for the children – I can’t understand why someone might do such a thing.”

Bianca Thiel, an executive assistant for the All Blacks, confirms NZRU was in the dark over the no-show.

“I have spoken with the school and they explained what happened but to the best of my knowledge this has nothing to do with us,” Thiel says.

“We are not aware of anyone called Kim. We don’t know anything about this and obviously the All Blacks are away at the moment.”