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From the desk of Rupert Wright: Beware identically dressed women

Focus: Forget physical injury. The real threat of rugby is ambush marketing, says Rupert Wright.

The training, the torture, even some of the talking is over: the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Auckland today. Many people are looking forward to watching great running moves, slick handling by the backs and big tackles from the forwards.

The players are dreading any handling errors, the officials any decision-making blunders, while the sponsors have coughed up and invited their pals to the party.

But just as there is the need for concentration on the pitch, so there is the need for vigilance off it.

I am grateful to my colleagues at the New Zealand Herald for keeping an eye on what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest stories of the tournament: ambush marketing.

Already at Eden Park they are urging their workers to be vigilant. They thwarted an attempt by a group of "young women dressed identically in black" (couldn't they have been All Black supporters?) heading to a Blues Super 15 match the other day.

The fear was that once inside the ground, they would strip off their tracksuits to reveal "skimpy clothing", in the process advertising a brand that is not a sponsor.

Carole Todd, the compliance and licensing manager at Auckland council, says there is valid need for officials to be officious. "Perhaps they will send in people separately, or dressed differently rather than wearing matching outfits. We have to be vigilant." Auckland council staff will be joined by investigators from the ministry of economic development to enforce an anti-ambush marketing law, the major events management act.

Other ambush-marketing ploys to be watched include merchandise giveaways, such as flags, hats or scarves, to thousands of rugby fans making their way to the ground.

"Official sponsors don't spend all this money on a tournament for other people to pop in and steal their thunder," Ms Todd said.

In other words, if you haven't paid, don't expect to pitch up and sell your wares, or advertise something that isn't officially sanctioned. This is a far cry from rugby's first world cup, also held in New Zealand, back in 1987, when the host nation won.

It is also the only time they have picked up the Webb Ellis Trophy. The All Blacks have been the victims of other ambushes along the way, most notably from the French and the South Africans in the "Mandela" final in 1995. They will be hoping that home advantage will pay off again. It is no good claiming you're the best rugby side in the world as you watch somebody else pick up the trophy.

Fans who might be worried that they won't even get to watch the games but will be ejected for wearing the wrong clothing will be reassured by the official word from the Rugby World Cup organisers.

"That's not an issue," Ross Young, the general manager of the Rugby World Cup, told the New Zealand Herald. "We're not going to be jumping up and down like the Gestapo."

I didn't even know the Nazis had a rugby team.

rwright@thenational.ae

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