Napier tipped to host All Blacks test

By Doug Laing


Napier's McLean Park is being lined up as a possible venue for an All Blacks test next year.

Although official sources were yesterday tight-lipped, one source expressed confidently: "It will happen."

It is understood the matter has been discussed in-committee at Napier City Council levels, and with some Hawke's Bay Rugby Union hierarchy.

Confronted with the suggestion, Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott was able to say little more than that the council, the owners of the park, would do everything it could do to get such events into the city.

"Watch this space," she said.

"The Rugby World Cup in 2011 was our last big thing, and the city liked that."

A New Zealand Rugby Union spokesman said the union was not "in the business" of discussing speculation on test match venues but a "bidding process" was under way.

Asked about the possibility of a test in Napier, Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chairman Brendan Mahony said: "I don't know about that. We would always apply if one was being offered."

Union CEO Mike Bishop was unable to be contacted yesterday afternoon.

At stake is at least one test expected to be played outside of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, in a season which will include a three-test tour by England, and the All Blacks' home matches in the Rugby Championship against South Africa, Australia and Argentina.

In 1996, McLean Park was the venue for the All Blacks' first "official" home test outside the four main centres, a Friday night, 51-10 win over Manu Samoa in a match which was also the All Blacks' first home test under floodlights.

But it remains Napier's only All Blacks test, despite 20 such tests having now been played in four cities, Hamilton having become a regular with 10, involving seven different opponents.

The North Shore Stadium at Albany has staged six tests, and three have been played in New Plymouth in the past five years, including one against France two months ago.

Tom Mulligan, an NZRU director and Hawke's Bay union chairman at the time of the 1996 test, had expected more on the back of the test's success and with the pro-active support of the city council.

The match was reported at the time to have attracted 18,000 fans, though figures closer to 15,000 have since been quoted.

But the financial plights of other grounds led to the guaranteeing of tests and other big games for such venues as North Harbour Stadium, and more recent similar considerations for the near-liquidated Otago Rugby Union and Dunedin's new roofed-in Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The city council website says McLean Park can hold 19,700 people, but temporary seating options are being investigated with the hope of boosting capacity to about 24,000.

The record crowd for the ground was the estimated 26,000 for the famous 1967 Ranfurly Shield defence against Wellington, when Hawke's Bay scrambled a last-moment 12-12 draw, thanks to a dropped goal by first five-eighths Blair Furlong, now the Bay union's president.

According to a weekend report, this year's New Plymouth test, against France, sold-out its 23,436 capacity 11 days before the game, and the 7500 who came from outside Taranaki spent an average of almost $300 each while in the area.

Napier could be looking for more, capitalising also on being named a host for three World Cup Cricket matches.

The 1996 rugby test, in which the great Christian Cullen launched his test career with three of the 46 tries he scored in 58 internationals for the All Blacks, was one of numerous history-making events at McLean Park.

Among other rugby events was the 1972 Hawke's Bay-Australia match, the second half of which was the first top-level rugby in New Zealand to be televised live.

Cricket milestones were a New Zealand-Pakistan cricket test in 1979, the first home test to be played outside of the four main centres, while in February 1996, with new lighting just installed, it was the venue for New Zealand's first day-night cricket international.

There have been three other rugby tests at the park, the Canadian RWC matches against Tonga in 1987, and France and Japan in 2011.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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