All Blacks: Historic southern test packs 'em in

By Daniel Gilhooly

Team colours and streamers festoon shop windows. Taxi drivers are debating what the score will be.

It's amazing what three years without test rugby can do.

The atmosphere in Dunedin this week won't rival that of yesteryear but is streets ahead of the ghost town style test buildups that have become the norm in other main centres in these times of saturation rugby.

Helping spruik interest is that Saturday's Tri-Nations showdown between the All Blacks and Springboks marks 100 years of test rugby at Carisbrook.

Tickets sold out a month ago and temporary seating will see 29,000 crammed into this venerable ground.

But after more than 130 years, Carisbrook continues to show its age.

The last test there was in 2005, also against South Africa, before the New Zealand Rugby Union said outdated facilities were not up to test level.

Improvements have been enough to see the Boks return to the ground, built on a swamp, they must hate more than any other on the planet.

Seven tests against the All Blacks here - including the first ever meeting of rugby's greatest rivals in 1921 - and seven losses.

If they don't win on Saturday, the South Africans may not get another chance.

A $188 million modern stadium proposed to replace Carisbrook has become a hot potato issue in the this southern student-filled city.

The stadium, which would be the first in New Zealand with a roof, has received city and regional council support but uncertainty over rate rises, private sector funding and possible cost blowouts could jam progress.

The proposed stadium would have the University of Otago as a major financial partner would be built next to Logan Park near the central city. It would hold just over 30,000 and be in place for the 2011 World Cup.

If it gets the nod, the stadium would do very well to match the fortress-like record of Carisbrook.

New Zealand's cricketers have found the ground a happy hunting ground as well but rugby has been the main show, almost inevitably ending in All Blacks success.

In 35 tests at the ground dubbed domestically "The House of Pain", they have lost just three times. There has been only one defeat in the last 19 tests since 1971.

A mountain of memories have been gathered since New Zealand beat an Anglo-Welsh side on June 30 1908.

The Otago Daily Times has this week captured the prevailing mood via a series of features on the five best tests.

And with the return of test rugby comes the restoration of the annual nude rugby international at Middle Beach on Saturday afternoon.

Tradition doesn't end easily in Dunedin.

Factbox on the 100-year test rugby history at Carisbrook here:

NZ overall record:

Played 34. Won 30, drawn 1, lost 3

v South Africa:

Played 7. Won 7, drawn 0, lost 0

Biggest wins:

NZ 60 Argentina 9, July 1989
NZ 69 Scotland 20, June 2000
NZ 64 England 22, June 1998
NZ 62 Scotland 31, June 1996

Most test appearances:

7: Sean Fitzpatrick, Tana Umaga, Justin Marshall
6: Ian Jones, John Kirwan, Craig Dowd, Andrew Mehrtens, Jonah Lomu

Most test points:

73: Andrew Mehrtens
50: Grant Fox
45: Christian Cullen

Most test tries:

9: Christian Cullen
6: Jonah Lomu
5: John Kirwan

Most points in a match:

27: Gavin Hasting, Scotland v Romania, June 1987
22: Andrew Mehrtens, NZ v Scotland, June 1996
21: Carlos Spencer, NZ v Australia, August 1997. Daniel Carter, NZ v England, June 2004

- NZPA

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