Rugby: Pukekohe expects big crowd for Chiefs

By Dylan Cleaver

Town buzzing with excitement as on-fire Waikato side expected to roll over struggling Lions. Photo / Getty Images
Town buzzing with excitement as on-fire Waikato side expected to roll over struggling Lions. Photo / Getty Images

It would not be hard to work up a line that the Chiefs' visit to Pukekohe this weekend has finally given Blues' fans easy access to some decent rugby this year. But we wouldn't stoop so low.

Instead we'll assume the 12,000-15,000 expected fans are all fervent Chiefs' supporters, swept up by the team's improbable eight-match winning streak and expecting to see the Lions put to the slaughter.

"It's been unprecedented from our perspective," said Counties Manukau chief executive Andrew Maddock of the pre-match interest. "This has been a notoriously slow place in terms of pre-purchases, but we've been going hot this week.

"We're figuring we'll easily sell out the grandstand before [today] and we'll try to fit 10,000 or so on the embankment. I think it's possible and it'll be a great occasion if we can."

The grandstand holds 5000 and the official capacity is 18,000, but with a large embankment the dominant feature of ECOLight Stadium, capacity is really what you can squeeze in before it gets uncomfortable.

Maddock said the buzz was reminiscent to a test match build-up.

"We're never going to get a test match but this is the next level down and in the community it feels like that's what it is.

"There's a lot of anticipation and quite a lot of appreciation that the Chiefs have come here. They need a bit of credit for that bold call as well."

It's a clever strategic move but Chiefs administrators can also thank Lady Luck.

The Lions are one of the least attractive box-office sides in the competition, so it's a good opportunity to embrace a union that has struggled to get Super rugby in the past. The last time they hosted a match was in 2000, when the Stormers beat them 28-25.

If the Chiefs had continued as they had the previous two years, Pukekohe might have made for a dismal scene tonight, but great form and an elevated sense of what this team could achieve has made them the hottest ticket in town.

"I've been dropping my kids off to school and in the carpark they're talking about Sonny Bill and Richard Kahui and Aaron Cruden," Maddock said. "Those guys guys aren't often seen up here so they're big draw cards."

If it all sounds a bit like the fans are expecting a coronation rather than a contest, you'd be right.

With just one win from eight matches, which came in their first game of the season, the Lions are tracking in the opposite direction of the Chiefs.

With several changes to the pack, the Chiefs have tacitly admitted this is the perfect opportunity to rest aching bodies and offer fringe players a rare opportunity. The backline remains largely intact. Coach Dave Rennie will hope to see some fluidity added to the startling line-breaking talent from numbers 10 to 15.

Chiefs v Lions
Pukekohe, 7.35 tonight

Andrew Horrell
Lelia Masaga
Richard Kahui
Sonny Bill Williams
Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Aaron Cruden
Brendon Leonard
Kane Thompson
Sam Cane
Tanerau Latimer
Mike Fitzgerald
Craig Clarke (c)
Ben Tameifuna
Hika Elliot
Toby Smith

Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo, Alex Bradley, Scott Waldrom, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Jackson Willison, Maritino Nemani.

Andries Coetzee
D. Van Rensburg
Jaco Taute
Alwyn Hollenbach
Lionel Mapoe
Elton Jantjies
Ross Cronje
Joshua Strauss (c)
Grant Hattingh
Derick Minnie
Ruan Botha
F. van der Merwe
Patric Cilliers
Callie Visagie
Oosthuizen/ Rensburg

Reserves: Martin Bezuidenhout, CJ van der Linde, Cobus Grobbelaar, Jaco Kriel, Tian Meyer, James Kamana, Michael Killian.

- NZ Herald

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