Gala Dinner Raises Thousands for NZ Falcons

August 30, 2015 in General

Rugby fans and celebrities including Sir Graham Henry turned out last night for the NZ Falcons Gala Dinner in Ellerslie.

The Falcons are off to Nashville next year. Photo/Andrea

The Falcons are off to Nashville next year. Photo/Andrea

The dinner was to raise funds for the Falcons to head to the Bingham Cup, which is being held next year in Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States.

About 250 people attended the event, and the audience was delighted to welcome former Breakfast presenter Tamati Coffey back to Auckland as the MC. Coffey kept the crowd on their toes as the evening raced along from highlight to highlight.

Falcons captain Jeremy Brankin was the first speaker, reminding guests why it was so important to have a gay and gay-friendly rugby team.

NZ Falcons captain Jeremy Brankin. Photo/Andrea

NZ Falcons captain Jeremy Brankin. Photo/Andrea

“The NZ Falcons is a team that supports guys from all walks of life to play rugby,” he said. “Those who have never played rugby before, right through to those who have played rugby at a high level.”

Brankin said that during his two seasons as captain, it’s been a privilege to see players come through the ranks that otherwise would never have got involved.

“Yes, rugby can be quite homophobic, and that is slowly changing, but I’m pleased to report some of those players who never thought they would play rugby have become some of the best-developing players,” he said.

Anika Moa kept the crowd entertained with a range of hits. Photo/Andrea

Anika Moa kept the crowd entertained with a range of hits. Photo/Andrea

The hilariously foul-mouthed Anika Moa kicked off the entertainment with one of her first songs, Youthful. True to form she spent as much time ribbing the audience as actually singing. She free-styled through several of her other hits, including Dreams in my Head, and at one point began a duet with Tamati Coffey, much to the delight of the crowd.

Next, it was a brief history lesson, as former All Black great Bryan Williams took to the stage to explain how he became involved with the Ponsonby Heros (precursors to the Falcons on the Auckland gay rugby scene). He said he had a number of questions when he was approached by the guys back in 1997.

“Could they catch, pass, tackle, ruck, and scrum? And most importantly, could they drink piss?”

Williams said it never occurred to him that their being gay was an issue; in fact quite the opposite.

“I hated injustice of any sort,” he told the crowd. “Sexuality really wasn’t an issue as far as I was concerned, in my view everyone has the right to love who they want to love.”

Sir Peter Leitch (aka The Mad Butcher) gives Sir Graham Henry's book a plug. Photo/Andrea

Sir Peter Leitch (aka The Mad Butcher) gives Sir Graham Henry’s book a plug. Photo/Andrea

After a sumptuous buffet dinner, two other well-known Kiwi faces took to the stage – former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, and Sir Peter Leitch, better known as The Mad Butcher. Both were in fine form, regaling the audience with stories and performing the seemingly impossible task of out-cussing Anika Moa.

Henry described his experiences during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and let the audience in on a secret – he’s picking the All Blacks to go up against a Northern Hemisphere side in this year’s final, probably Ireland, and reckons the score will be 25-12 to the boys in black.

The Falcons performed a rousing haka for Sir Graham Henry. Photo/Andrea

The Falcons performed a rousing haka for Sir Graham Henry. Photo/Andrea

Sir Graham told the Falcons the most important thing was to get out on the field, tackle hard, and give the game their all.

He joked: “F**k the sexuality, just win the rugby!”

The boys responded with a rousing haka, which you can check out here thanks to Brian Holland.

A rugby ball signed by the All Blacks was a hot-ticket item in the auction. Photo/Andrea

A rugby ball signed by the All Blacks was a hot-ticket item in the auction. Photo/Andrea

Sir Graham also took advantage of the evening to plug his new book, which was one of the first items up for auction when Michelle Maitland took to the stage. One of the most popular items was a rugby ball signed by the All Blacks that a lucky punter snapped up for $1500. The auction raised about $6000 in total, which Jeremy Brankin says will go a long way.

“We’re really happy with the money we’ve raised,” he says. “It’s a start, for getting us to Nashville. It’s a big endeavour to get a squad of 25 or 30 over there, so we’ll regroup now and look at how much more we need to raise.”

Check out more scene pics here

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