Cup more than just a game for England

From Scottish dancing to beer festivals, Britain is laying on a colourful welcome for the Rugby World Cup and hoping the visiting teams and their supporters generate a tourism boost.

Fanzones and traditional cultural experiences feature throughout the world’s third biggest sporting event, which kicks off Friday, with tourism chiefs hoping to spread the word about England’s historic cities.

Each of the 20 teams – England included – has been given a formal welcome ceremony, typically in a landmark venue in a host city, where they can mingle with supporters and the local community.

Fiji were the first team to get the welcome treatment, at Hampton Court Palace on September 10, followed by New Zealand at the Tower of London.

“These official team welcome ceremonies really set the tone for the tournament,” said World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset.

The ceremonies feature the World Cup anthem “World In Union” and plenty of flags, while each squad member received a cap and a participation medal – before the selfies and the revelry begin.

Britain is on a run of hosting major sporting events, including the London 2012 Olympics, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and the opening stages of the 2014 Tour de France.

The Rugby World Cup is copying the template set by the London Olympics, where national teams were welcomed into local communities around the country in a bid to generate pockets of support and excitement.

The aim is also that fans following the teams spend time exploring the cultural attractions in the cities hosting the matches.

Eleven towns and cities have host city status, from traditional rugby heartlands like Gloucester and Exeter to major hubs like Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle.

Each has its own fun-oriented fanzones for watching live matches on giant screens, and will lay on a festival of rugby surrounding the games, featuring everything from comedy to music, beer festivals and film screenings.

Some 466,000 foreigners are expected to visit England for the tournament, spending an estimated 869 million ($A1.88 billion) during their trip.

Newcastle is welcoming the teams and fans that have travelled the longest and shortest distances.

Tonga and Samoa are more than 16,000 kilometres away, while Scotland is just 60km from the city.

When Scotland and South Africa clash on October 3, the city will stage a mass Scottish ceilidh dance “with a South African twist”, while a bagpiper will lead Scottish fans to the stadium.

The cultural exchange works both ways.

“Geordies”, as Newcastle’s natives are called, can also learn how to do New Zealand’s famous Haka war dance.

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