TENS of thousands of international rugby fans took their seats as the North-East hosted the first of three World Cup games.

All eyes were on Tyneside as Scotland took on South Africa at St James’ Park in Newcastle.

A busy carnival atmosphere enveloped the city as it was taken over by visitors wearing the navy blue colours of Scotland and the green and gold of the Springboks.

The match started at 4.45pm and celebrations are expected to continue in the evening as England take on Australia.

The crucial group clash is being shown on giant screens around the city and forms part of a wider festival of rugby organised for tournament.

Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, said: “We are planning to celebrate our rugby world cup games and welcome visitors from across the world by throwing a party that has something for everyone. “It doesn’t matter whether you are a rugby fan or not, the city will have a real buzz.

The Northern Echo:

Scotland fans enjoy the pre-match build-up in Newcastle ahead of the crucial Pool B Rugby World Cup match between South Africa and Scotland at St James' Park later this afternoon

“We want everyone to enjoy the big tournament atmosphere and make sure our visitors leave Newcastle with great memories, regardless of whether their team wins or loses.”

New Zealand play Tonga next Friday at 8pm and Scotland will play Samoa the following day at 2.30pm.

Pre-match entertainment is planned before each game, and fans are being asked to be in their seats by 30 minutes before kick-off.

The Fanzone has been set up in Newcastle’s Science Central, next to St James’ Park, is running until October 11, for those without tickets to the matches.

It includes a 4,000 capacity marquee with a weather-proof area for fans to congregate and watch games on the big screens.

There is also an outdoor park with a 60sqm screen and food and drink stalls, with a ‘megasol’ in case of rain and a half-size 3G artificial rugby pitch so young people can try their hand at rugby.

Speaking outside Cole Wilson, 30, from Durban, said: "This is my 30th birthday present and it is a dream come true. I have always wanted to come to a Rugby World Cup and I did not think it would happen. It is something we will probably never do again. There is an incredible atmosphere."

Richard Flanders, 32, also from South Africa, who lives in London, said: "South Africa is a proud rugby nation and it is the equivalent to football over here. I have been really looking forward to it."

Steven Cunningham, 30, who is from South Africa and now lives near Glasgow, said: "Ït is interesting coming to watch the Springboks and living in Scotland. It is not that often we get to watch them. There is a buzzing atmosphere I am really looking forward to it."

Stuart Peterson, 35, from Dumfries and Galloway, said: "Ï love the fact this is a Scottish event against South Africa in England. It is really putting on the Geordie folk though as they have been inundated with us. It is a real pleasure to be here. The Geordie atmosphere is the best in England."

Robert Keast, 26, from the Highlands, said: "Ït is great to be able to meet up with my pals in Newcastle. There are an awful lot of South African fans though."

Brendan Faulk, 25, also from the Highlands, said: "This if my first Rugby World Cup game. It does not come about very often and supporting the nation is the pinnacle."

People in the North-East can also enjoy a specially organised nine-day cultural festival as part of the tournament celebrations on Tyneside.

The Northern Echo:

Friendly rivalry between these South Africa and Scotland supporters

The Conversion Festival features live music, performance, arts, street food stalls and, starting on Saturday and celebrates the musical traditions of Scotland and South Africa.

Inside the ground, the two sets of fans were in full voice, producing an electrifying atmosphere befitting of both the venue and the occasion.

A total of 134,000 spectators are expected to visit Newcastle over the two week period and experts have said it will generate £43m for the regional economy.

Sarah Stewart, chief executive at the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, said: “The Rugby World Cup presents a spectacular opportunity for businesses across the destination both during the tournament and from return and new business in future.

The Northern Echo:

South Africa fans get into the spirit

“Already, we know that hotels have seen increased booking during the tournament with occupancy on match days averaging at 94 per cent.

“With an estimated 134,000 visitors expected, a range of business, big and small, will undoubtedly see an economic benefit, from taxi drivers to restaurants, bars, attractions and of course, hotels.” Initial ticket allocations all but sold out, but extra tickets and resale tickets are occasionally released for all games. Prices start from £50, and go up to £175.

To find out what is available check: https://tickets.rugbyworldcup.com

  • Going to the match? Send your photos to newsdesk@nne.co.uk or tweet them using #rwc2015

The Northern Echo:

Fans show their allegiance Picture: Chris Booth