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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Dazzling ceremony opens World Cup
RUGBY WORLD CUP BEGINS
The 2003 Rugby World Cup has kicked off in style at Sydney's Telstra Stadium.

Defending champions Australia met Argentina in the tournament's opening match at 1130 BST on Friday.

But before that there was an opening ceremony which showcased the diversity of the host nation.

The entire crowd of 83,500 at the former Olympic Stadium warmed up by singing Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda.

The show was then started by 80 drummers with luminous drum sticks welcoming the tournament while standing on top of Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

John Eales, who led Australia to victory in the 1999 World Cup, entered the stadium and placed a rugby ball on a podium.

Then several hundred children combined to form a human-animated rugby player on a massive scale which dived to score the first try of the tournament.

The ceremony continued with a light show depicting the extraordinary diversity of the land that makes up Australia, before Aboriginal dancers took over.

WORLD CUP IN NUMBERS
20 teams
44 days
48 matches
10 cities
11 venues
600 players
16 referees

Their stunning performance was followed by a modern-dance display about fire, a constant worry during the summer months in Australia, before a surreal tableaux representing water took over from the fiery hordes.

And finally, before Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chairman Peter Crittle welcomed the participants to the tournament, a choir made up of young people from each of the competing countries sang a song in praise of world friendship.

At 1107 BST Australian prime minister John Howard stepped forward to a mixed reception to formally open the tournament.

In his speech he mentioned the victims of the Bali bombing, many of whom were rugby players of both codes who were either on tour or celebrating the end of the Australian season.

Once he had opened the tournament, Australian soprano Deborah Cheetham and Argentine tenor Jose Cura sang the tournament anthem World in Union to bring the ceremony to a dramatic close.





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