Wales coach Warren Gatland has welcomed the double Rugby World Cup homecoming visit to Waikato he was handed today - after the full match schedule for the 2011 tournament was announced.
Gatland's Wales will be heading to his home town Waikato Stadium in Hamilton to play Oceana 1 (Sunday 18th September) and Fiji (Sunday October 2nd) in the RWC pool stages - with fixtures against South Africa in Wellington (Sunday 11th September) and Africa 1 in New Plymouth, Taranaki, also on the agenda.
"I had a feeling we would be going to Waikato and am very much looking forward to Wales playing there twice as well as visiting Wellington and Taranaki, which are both also great rugby cities," said Gatland.
"Hamilton is one of the best rugby grounds in the country, it has the best surface and the best atmosphere. It's one of the only grounds of its kind still entirely dedicated to rugby. Some of the others host cricket matches and the like, but in Waikato its rugby through and through.
"The Waikato people are also the most passionate and knowledgeable fans, they are extremely loyal and they know a good game of rugby when they see one - they are very much like the Welsh.
"That's why I feel so at home in Wales. I've heard Shaun Edwards refer to Wales as 'a big Wigan' and I can relate to that because for me Wales is like a big Waikato.
"The NZRFU used to book fixtures in Waikato for all the touring teams for midweek matches, because it was the one place in New Zealand where you could guarantee a sell-out 30,000 crowd. We hope to take a Wales team there in the summer in 2010, when we would like to play a couple of provincial matches during our tour.
"We will be making the effort to visit some of the schools and rugby clubs and get out into the community in all of the places we are going to play, because if we can get the home fans on side then that will make a huge difference for us come Rugby World Cup time.
"I'd like to think as a proud Waikato boy myself there may be one or two fans already routing for me and the Welsh team there, but, as I a say, the crowd is very knowledgeable and they will give the likes of Fiji and Samoa (if they are to be our opponents) a warm reception as well."
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