Martin Snedden: In the defence of Eden Park

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Those in attendance at Eden Park are there not just to witness, but to play a part in making sure the occasion succeeds, says Rugby World Cup 2011 boss Martin Snedden. Photo / Getty Images
Those in attendance at Eden Park are there not just to witness, but to play a part in making sure the occasion succeeds, says Rugby World Cup 2011 boss Martin Snedden. Photo / Getty Images

Sorry Gregor, I think you've missed the mark.

The best sporting memories are not created by bricks and mortar. They help, and the re-developed Eden Park will play its part, but what matters much more are such things as the importance of the event, the history that surrounds the occasion, the on-field action and the passion of the people who are there in the stadia.

These are the crucial factors which will converge to bring Eden Park alight when RWC 2011 gets under way in 68 days.

In international sporting terms, this is a really big event. It is by far the biggest New Zealand has ever staged. We know that a sizeable international spotlight will be on us for those 45 days and that our country's international reputation is on the line.

The very magnitude of this opportunity will create a real edge but should also be accompanied by a feeling of goodwill which will be felt in all our RWC stadia, most particularly at Eden Park as venue for the opening match and final.

Those present are there not just to witness, but to play a part in making sure that the occasion succeeds.

All of Eden Park's 11 RWC matches will carry an unmistakable air of tension. Yes, the All Blacks will be overwhelming favourites to beat Tonga in the opening match, but they know that a win that night will not be enough. They will want to take this prime-time opportunity to send an unequivocal statement that 2011 is their year.

The 10 matches that follow will likely all be deal-makers or deal-breakers for the teams involved. Those present in the stadium will witness scenes of undiluted triumph and heartbreaking tragedy, the stuff of sporting dreams and sporting nightmares.

And those scenes of rugby history will be created on a playing surface which is arguably the best in world rugby. No matter what the weather, the surface will be first class.

It has been a privilege for me in recent years to attend rugby internationals at the Millennium Stadium and Stade de France, but neither of these modern stadia can match Eden Park for its sporting history. Over nearly 100 years Eden Park has been the venue for many great All Blacks victories, the dramatic series-deciders against the 1956 and 1981 Springboks and the 1987 RWC to name but three, and also the odd disaster.

Add to this many memorable cricketing moments, such as our first test win in 1956 after 26 years of trying and, embarrassingly, our team's second innings capitulation for 26 against England two years before. Eden Park, in 1952, was centre stage venue for the Empire Games.

For many fans being in a place where sporting history has been made time and again still counts for a lot.

Finally, nothing inspires players more than performing in front of large, passionate crowds. After that stunning All Blacks performance against the Springboks last July, Dan Carter told me how great the atmosphere had been, even though the stadium was then still half-complete. He said that he and his team-mates couldn't wait to be playing in front of full houses on what has become one of their favourite grounds.

And that's exactly what they'll get at Eden Park for RWC.

When the All Blacks beat the Lions on July 9, 2005 to wrap up a 3-0 series clean sweep they did so in front of a packed house of 45,000 spectators. Already, more than two months before RWC 2011 begins, three and a half months before the final is played, three days before we go on public sale, ticket sales for all five pool matches, the two semifinals and the final are all over 40,000 - some above 50,000.

I'm picking that we'll get to a full house, or not far below, for a number of these matches. The last time there were 60,000 spectators at Eden Park was during the 1950s and 60s.

Maybe our stadia aren't the flashest in the world. And yes, maybe it will rain and maybe spectators will get a bit wet, just like the 20,000-plus spectators who got absolutely drenched during a thunderstorm at a recent Premier League match I attended at Stamford Bridge, home of one of the world's most wealthy football clubs: Chelsea.

But, Gregor, maybe you can see that when the whole RWC 2011 package rolls out - the occasion, the rugby, the history and the people who will be there in big numbers, combined with a vastly improved stadium - Eden Park will have a lot more going for it than you've been prepared to admit. For what it's worth, I think you'll be very surprised, pleasantly so. See you there.

- Herald on Sunday

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