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Netball - 07. November 2007.

England Netball's Rona Hunnisett reports from New Zealand



Imagine a country where everyone has an opinion about netball. Where the water cooler conversations do not revolve around David Beckham’s latest haircut, or John Terry’s pay rise, but who will be lining up in the centre court for the next international?

England Netball's Rona Hunnisett


Welcome to New Zealand!

And while it may be exaggerating to say that everyone in Auckland is netball crazy, with the New World Netball World Championships starting here on Saturday, but there’s certainly a netball buzz about the place that’s infectious!

From a stand inside the main arrivals hall at Auckland International, to banners on lamp- and telegraph-posts on the road into the city centre, and branded buses around town, Auckland has definitely got the netball bug! Within hours of arriving, I’d had in-depth conversations about the competition with, among others, a 70 year old Australian tourist and his wife, the girl at the checkout in the supermarket, and my taxi driver from the airport, who was trying to impress on me that this year IS England’s year (I told him, I know!) – imagine that happening in England!


Rival captains Liz Ellis [Australia] and Adine Wilson [NZ] flank New World's Mark Baker, with the World Championship trophy, July 2007

Photo By: Michael Bradley

The flight from England is interminable, but at least it’s an opportunity to catch up on some reading and some of the newest films which I’d missed at the cinema! My flight stopped over at Singapore, which has the most beautiful – and vast- airport at Chiangi. The walkways between gates are about the width of a football pitch, and everywhere there are palm trees, tropical plants and not a speck of litter in sight! Although, I must say, I could have done without the ornamental fountains which, while undoubtedly soothing, started to play tricks with my mind after a while and had me scuttling to the toilet “just in case” as my flight was called!

Auckland Airport sits right on the coast, and the surrounding countryside is very like the Channel Islands – there were even cows at the end of the runway! Seriously, though, the fields are incredibly green and lush and with the beaches close alongside, it looks just like a scene from Bergerac!

One thing that no one had warned me about was the time it takes to get through Auckland’s immigration and customs checks! For anyone who’s ever been held up at New York’s JFK, all I can say is that JFK is like a 100m race, compared with a marathon in Auckland’s case. In addition to filling in a very long form, arrivals then have to queue for ages in what seems to be a chaotic crush, before being whisked in front of an immigration official. Having passed that test, and collected your luggage, you then have to queue again – this time right round the arrivals hall, to pass through the bio- control, which is all about checking whether you are importing any food, drink or other natural substances. And, having done all that, you still have to have your luggage x-rayed once again, before you can emerge into the New Zealand sunlight.

The England Netball Squad-photo England Netball

Adding a bit of netball “excitement” to the arrivals hall today was the Fijian squad, led by former Silver Fern and now player/coach Vilimaina Davu. Even those in the arrivals hall who had no idea who the squad were started to comment about the height and physical presence of the Fijians who looked amazing in long-line navy skirt suits and white shirts.

But even then, the Kiwi knowledge of netball shone through: “Shouldn’t be allowed to play for them” muttered one man behind me about Davu, who has recently been granted permission to play in Fijian colours at the forthcoming championships. And with a host of tv and press cameras awaiting the Fijian team as they moved on to get into their minibus, netball is certain to be top of the New Zealand news agenda once again this evening.

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