The new drainage and turf of major Hawke's Bay sports stadium McLean Park is facing its biggest test with four days of rain leading into the national rugby championship's Battle of the Bays today.

But any suggestion the park and its near $5 million ground-job will be under the pump would be misleading, with Hawke's Bay Rugby Union bosses yesterday overawed by the lack of splash despite more than 100mm of rain, and counting.

On the eve of the top-of-the table Mitre 10 Cup championship division match between the Hawke's Bay Magpies and the Bay of Plenty Steamers, HBRU CEO Jay Campbell said, with the rain still falling: "The park is in outstanding nick. We are really rapt with all the work that has gone and the effort of the Napier City Council."

Treading the turf mid-afternoon, with the 100mm-plus recorded just across the road at Nelson Park, brought back memories for union commercial manager Greg Somerville of worrying hours before the Magpies' defence of the Ranfurly Shield in September 2015 — memorable for both the rain beforehand and Ihaia West's magic in the 17-12
Hawke's Bay win which meant the dampness of the evening didn't really matter.

Advertisement

Somerville recalled braving the heavy rain during the day while putting up signage and carrying out other pre-match preparations.

"We were out there in our gumboots, the water was up around our ankles," he said, pointing to the formerly troublesome, drainage-challenged area in front of the Harris Stand. "Walking out there now it's the complete opposite."

It was in the same area of the ground in February 2017 that lingering soddenness, after comparatively little rain, forced the abandonment of a transtasman one-day cricket international without a ball being bowled, and the bringing-forward of the oval rebuild.

But yesterday there was little sign that rain would play any significant part in today's game, with MetService forecasting that showers will have at least eased by kick-off, although a southwesterly is still expected.

The climate wasn't expected to stop the match from attracting one of the biggest crowds of the Mitre 10 Cup season.

The 6612 at last Sunday's Magpies match against Counties Manukau was the second biggest of the cup season to date, topped only by the Premiership competition Auckland-Counties Manukau derby which attracted 10,711 to Eden Park in Auckland.

With the McLean Park gates opening today at 1.45pm, a Hawke's Bay Saracens v Wellington Centurions curtainraiser starting at 2pm,and the main game starting at 4.35pm — and some seats in the Graeme Lowe Stand at embankment prices of $12.50 — the Hawke's Bay union is hopeful of another crowd exceeding 6000.

A Magpies win would put Hawke's Bay 8-9 points clear at the top of the Championship table and in line for home playoff matches with even bigger crowds in October.