With only a handful of matches at the park before the Rugby World Cup, Michael Dickison attended Friday night's Blues vs Highlanders game to give the revamped stadium a test drive.


A taxi from Britomart took Symonds St to Eden Park, along rainy streetscapes mostly of bus shelters.

With the road closures around Eden Park, the 7pm traffic was backed up to the intersection of Dominion Rd and New North Rd on both routes.

The Herald's taxi driver, when he saw these lines of cars, veered boldly into the bus lane, racing past the congestion saying, "If there are cameras it will be very bad for me." It turns out, however, that the bus lane on New North Rd finishes at 6pm, so he was doing the smart and legal thing.

With this leg-up, the trip to Kingsland station was 22 minutes and $27.79. That's six minutes faster and $27.79 more expensive than the train two weeks ago to the last Blues game.

The traffic is likely to be much worse during the World Cup.

The return trip - a u-turn on New North Rd, up Bond St to Great North Rd, then down K Rd and Queen St - took 15 minutes and cost $21.40.

This route is the designated walkway between Eden Park and Party Central for the cup, and is generally personable. It has more atmosphere than the views inside trains and from their windows. But an uninspiring lull between Kingsland and K Rd will need some injection of fun from Auckland's dependable party animal, the council.

Food, beverages and queues: 8/10

It took eight minutes in line to buy tickets - about eight minutes more than at the previous Blues game, which was on a Saturday.

There is nothing wrong with a short wait, but blasts of cold spray helped many feel miserable. A group of American students behind in line exclaimed that "it sucks".

The queues at the gates moved briskly, as staff directed people without bags towards the "express lanes". Though it was hardly a sell-out, thousands of fans still passed through effortlessly, waiting less than a minute.

But the closest stop for beer inside, behind the northern stands, soon developed a long, slow-moving line - prompting reminders from staff that there were empty beer booths just a few metres along the concourse. This was kind advice, though you would think it should be unnecessary. The queue took about nine minutes, if you could walk no further for your bottle.

At halftime, the longest line was for coffee, as it was two weeks ago. It seems Eden Park has lots of capacity to get you booze, but we're squeezed for hot drinks. The coffee booth was also in one of the rare dead spots without TV screens, and play resumed during the nine-minute wait for hot chocolate.

There was hardly any hold-up at all at the end of the match, when the crowd left unhindered through the many exits.

Facilities: 3/10

In the rain, Eden Park was a shame.

Spectators abandoned their cheap and very wet seats in droves, moving instead to empty rows undercover or to the concourses, standing on yellow letters that steadfastly told them: "No standing."

The crowd became small strips huddled under overhanging roofs.

Few would be advised to sit through such miserable Auckland weather - unless, of course, you have paid hundreds of dollars for a World Cup ticket.

The Herald tried it too, for a test run. It was unenjoyable, we can confidently report, except to watch the warmth of an old man in front, sitting under a green umbrella with his wife, yelling "yes, yes" whenever he saw a gap for the Blues to run through. His wife clapped on his lap during exciting moments. A good time was had under their umbrella, rain or not.

The fireballs exploding after every try sent great plumes of white smoke curling around floodlights, but no discernible heat to rain-soaked spectators.

On the positive ledger, only a very strong arm could get a beer bottle to reach the field from the northern seats, so no security worries there.

Aside from the facilities on which you actually watched the rugby - that is, the seats - most of the stadium was spotless and efficient.

The crowd: 6/10

The new south stands, across the pitch, were overwhelmingly grey with empty seats, but the spectators in the north made a valiant effort to look and sound like a sporting crowd.

Flags were waved, cheeks were painted, roars erupted - there were genuine fans among them. Some were even spotted on their feet.

Even the police officers stationed in pairs every 10m or so were more congenial than imposing.

When a policeman was asked if there were any umbrellas for sale, he returned a pleasant smile. "Not that I've seen. I reckon they would make a lot of money if they were!"

The atmosphere was convivial, and even spirited, but with the crowd so sparse - so few and so far from the pitch - it was hard to feel any do-or-die tenseness in the mishmash stands.

One spectator texted: "Am bored silly."

Entertainment: 6/10

There was an impressive amount of hair flying around as cheerleaders ran out at halftime, but the wet field seemed to overwhelm the smallsquad.

The announcer always got a response from the crowd, and the music during breaks even got some children moving. The selection of songs was cheesy enough to have fun with.

The entertainment seemed to do enough.