The United States rugby team opens play in the 2011 Rugby World Cup on Sunday in New Zealand. But before the Americans take the field against Ireland in New Plymouth, they plan to attend a morning service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, which will honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 800 people are expected at the non-denominational service which will be one of the first to commemorate the anniversary on a day of remembrance around the world.
The 2011 tournament is expected to attract 85,000 visitors to New Zealand and more than four billion television viewers — including many in the U.S. where games will be broadcast on NBC and its affiliates. The 1.1 million match tickets already sold — nearly three-quarters of the total available — make this far and away the largest event ever staged in the country’s history.
Despite some internal uproar over controversial advertisements for the Cup, Kiwis are fully behind their national team, the All Blacks, which has not won a World Cup since 1987 despite annually being one of the most dominant sides in the sport.
New Zealand’s first and only World Cup victory came on home soil in the tournament’s first edition. The Kiwis have not hosted since, which gives their proud legions of rugby supporters hope that this will be the year they finally end the drought.
The Americans are joined in Pool C by Ireland, Russia, Italy and two-time champions Australia. Pool A consists of the All Blacks, France, Tonga, Canada and Japan. Argentina, England, Scotland, Georgia and Romania face off in Pool B and 2007 champions South Africa, Wales, Fiji, Samoa and Namibia fill out the field in Pool D.
New Zealand kicks off the tournament Friday against Tonga. The final will be played on Oct. 23 at Eden Park in Auckland.