England's black jersey wins few fans

England rugby team supporters show their true colours while greeting their Rugby World Cup heroes...
England rugby team supporters show their true colours while greeting their Rugby World Cup heroes at Dunedin International Airport yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
England's rugby stars were full of praise for Dunedin's Rugby World Cup welcome yesterday, but less sure how their controversial black jersey will be received in New Zealand.

The team was greeted by about 200 white jersey-wearing and flag-waving supporters when it touched down at Dunedin International Airport yesterday afternoon, after flying into Auckland mid-week.

Star first-five Jonny Wilkinson told the Otago Daily Times it was "awesome" to be in Dunedin ahead of their first tournament match on Saturday, while coach Martin Johnson was impressed by the welcome.

"It's great - nice. You don't normally get this when you're touring New Zealand."

Among the fans there to greet them, and hunt for autographs and photos, were Kevin and Linda Prentice, of Cambridgeshire, in England.

The pair arrived in New Zealand only yesterday after travelling from England, via Hong Kong, for the tournament, and to see their Dunedin-based sister.

They had tickets to every match their team hoped to play - including the quarterfinal, semifinal and final.

However, Mr Prentice was less sure of his support for the black alternative strip the England team would wear when playing Argentina at Otago Stadium on Saturday.

"It's ridiculous - stupid," he said of the decision to change to the All Blacks' traditional colour.

"It should be white and red."

He blamed team sponsor Nike for the decision, which prompted raised eyebrows in New Zealand and had also not gone down well in England, he said.

"It's not [a decision] by the team, it's by Nike ... we all thought it was a joke," he said.

Johnson, England's Rugby World Cup-winning captain-turned-coach, was non-committal when asked how he thought the jersey would be received in Dunedin.

"What, our black jersey? I dunno. It's a jersey, mate. We'll see. We're looking forward to the game."

Despite the controversy, Mrs Prentice said she was confident her team could take away the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time.

"We're going all the way.

"We are going to see England win."

The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the pair, who planned to spend 10,000-15,000 ($NZ19,000-$28,000) travelling by campervan between games to see the sights in the South and North Islands, as well as in Australia, on the way home.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz


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