OPINION

Tauranga Domain won national plaudits for the show it put on last Saturday for the Bay of Plenty – Canterbury rugby double header.

I was one of those unfortunates who couldn't go because of a long-standing prior commitment. But I made sure I was in front of a TV at 2.30pm to see a big crowd having a great time watching a good game of footy on a sunny day.

The Sky commentators were effusive in their words about the great occasion it was, and about how grounds like the Domain are the kinds of places rugby at this level should be played at.

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Then the next day my friend Tony Johnson, who'd been the Sky play-by-play man on Saturday, was on Newstalk ZB again espousing the virtues of the day and the ground – even the great variety of food options.

Which leads to the inevitable question.

Does a booming, fast-growing city like Tauranga really need a new rugby stadium?

After all, we now have more people than Dunedin - and look at the big sport and entertainment occasions that city attracts because of their covered stadium.

And we're certainly way bigger than Nelson which somehow has been given an All Blacks test this weekend.

There're major differences. Dunedin is the headquarters of the Highlanders and Otago rugby. It's the only place in the lower South Island where the All Blacks will play.

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Nelson rugby must just have friends in high places. The pacesetting Tasman Makos don't even play all their home games at Trafalgar Park.

But there are already two rugby grounds of international standard less than 75 minutes' drive from Tauranga.

The Chiefs are not leaving Hamilton any time soon and their home ground is still on the All Blacks rota, if not this year.

Rotorua International Stadium, which is still a very good facility, hosted a big Lions tour match as recently as last year and was part of both the 1987 and 2011 Rugby World Cups.

Tauranga may now be the administrative headquarters of Bay of Plenty Rugby, and the training base, and many of the players now live here. But the reality is that if this city spent hundreds of millions on a new stadium – because that's what it would cost – there would be too much local competition to get enough worthwhile events here.

So what we saw last Saturday should be a blueprint for big rugby occasions in future.

After all, that particular game at Mitre 10 Cup level couldn't have been much more enticing. The local team with a couple of early wins against the defending champions. It was a sunny day, it didn't cost much to get in and just over 5000 people showed up.

In these times, that's about the optimum crowd size for a big sports event in this city. The reality is that live attendances at Super Rugby and national championship games are trending down.

Any new stadium would have to have at least a 15,000-seat capacity to make it worthwhile for entertainment events.

This city just can't afford it.

Now we have to wait till October 13 to see the Steamers play in Tauranga again.

If it's as good as last Saturday, it'll be worth waiting for – and a lot cheaper than any pipe dream of a flashy new stadium.

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