Richard Loe: No real surprise over Christchurch turnout

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You have to wonder about the New Zealand Rugby Union - all this moaning by Steve Tew about people not turning up to the test match against Italy - shows they still don't get it.

I was asked to go to the capping event on Friday night - the do where they hand out caps to past All Blacks. I was also asked if I might be in the guard of honour for the All Blacks to run out against Italy last night.

I declined because the evening event was only for an hour, finger-foods and drinks, and I live a fair way out of Christchurch.

If I wanted to attend the game, I had to pay for my own tickets and accommodation - and that for a game between a highly-rotated All Black team, with only five first-teamers in it, and a minnow.

Then notification arrived that the capping do had changed to a sit-down dinner and a proper reunion and Mediaworks, for whom I do a radio show, invited me to their corporate box - and those two things changed my mind about attending the capping.

You see, if you are going to honour someone, you honour them. That means you get them there; you put them up and you look after them, not use them as a kind of convenience.

A business associate said to me the other day that he didn't like the fact that, when he went to watch rugby in Christchurch, he rarely saw former players there.

I can tell him why. When I retired, I bought season tickets for me and the family. That lasted until 2005 and the Lions tour of that year - when all season ticket holders were told they couldn't have the access to tickets they thought they could.

That did it for me. I haven't owned a season ticket since. People in Canterbury have long memories about things like that and they also don't forget Steve Tew making his name with Canterbury but then being snakey about test attendances down here.

People didn't buy early tickets to the test because they were waiting to see what All Black test team was involved. Night rugby down here can be punishingly cold because the reconstruction has opened things up to the freezing easterly - but that and the ticket prices are worth it if the teams you are watching are not the All Black B team versus a minnow.

Also, the NZRU have played a part in raising the TV generation. Their deal with broadcasters brings in plenty of coin but also encourages people to stay away from venues - look around town and you'll see so many places offering giant TV screens, seats, warmth and a few soothing drinks for people to watch the rugby.

What genius put this test in Christchurch anyway? It seems almost like a set-up.

Why not take it to a centre like Hawkes Bay, Taranaki or Tauranga? Any of those would love to have it and the novelty would help drive attendance.

And please don't get me wrong about the capping thing. It's a great gesture and appreciated. I also know that there is one reunion a year where the All Blacks do get tickets paid for - it was Dunedin this year and fair enough.

But if you are going to honour a group of people in Christchurch, do so. If you are going to spend money, spend money. Make them feel like they are valued guests, not volunteers.

In the professional era, you don't call on your past players by conveniently lapsing back to the amateur era.

I also got a call from the great All Black lock Stan "Tiny" Hill. He said: "Are you going to this thing [the guard of honour]?" I told him I wasn't. "That makes two of us," he said.

As for the game itself - disgusting. I went for 72-16 in the sweep and felt that, if we didn't do that well, we wouldn't have much of a chance in the Tri Nations. It doesn't look good.

It was a muddling, dead performance and the most remarkable thing from the game was the victory celebrations of the Italians afterwards.

They were just happy to get close.

- Herald on Sunday

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