One of New Zealand's proudest rugby provinces is witnessing the decline and fall of the national game within its borders, and is hardly raising a whimper. That's the message beaming loud and clear out of Otago in the last week after the Highlanders hugely successful foray into Palmerston North, and the increasingly well-organised opposition to the proposed new stadium in Dunedin.

Vic Cavanagh and Charlie Saxton will be turning in their graves. Chris Laidlaw and Earle Kirton, Laurie Mains and Duncan Robertson, Mike Brewer and Mark Ellis, Anton Oliver and Carl Hayman, Otago legends all, must wonder from afar just how it's come to this.

The province will soon be under severe pressure to retain a Super Rugby franchise unless there's a significant bump in home attendance numbers and, if the "Stop the Stadium" faction has its way, there will never be an All Black test of any significance played in the city again.

The NZRU's comments at the time it allocated the June 13 match against France to Carisbrook suggested it won't be putting up with that sub-standard old ground for much longer and that a new facility has to be built. Otherwise the country's best known team won't be back. Significantly the 2011 Rugby World Cup schedule has the All Blacks playing in other main centres but not Dunedin.

Wonder why? I have southern blood in my veins. My formative years were all in Otago and Southland. I love the south, still have family there and visit often. Yet when it comes to the national game, I fear Dunedin is headed to backwater status, barely on a level with those paragons of provincialism Palmerston North, Napier and New Plymouth.

Maybe that's how locals want it. The great days of Otago rugby were all in the amateur era when an annual wave of young scholar-athletes descended from the north to Otago University.

They filtered through to the legendary Varsity A which always seemed to win the Dunedin club competition, and then on to the dark blues of Otago. Mix them with the local products out of Southern and Pirates, add the tough boys from the country and there was a pretty potent and competitive Otago provincial team for generations.

Now Dunedin seems to have fewer and fewer fans prepared to go and watch any sort of rugby in the flesh.

It's really not surprising when the nights are as cold as they are, even in the autumn, and the city's home ground is an unsophisticated patchwork of facilities nowhere near the standard of stadiums in Hamilton or Wellington.

It's obvious from afar that if rugby is to be re-ignited in Dunedin, and in the entire Otago region, then this new stadium just has to be built.

The city needs to inject some enthusiasm back into its rugby fan base. Build a place where it's comfortable to watch games, even on the coldest of nights, where the All Blacks can play the Wallabies.

The vehement opposition at the Town Hall meeting last Sunday night was based around the $200 million price tag and the likely burden on the Dunedin ratepayer. But it will never be less expensive to build than right now. And if the ratepayer contribution is only $66 a year, surely $1.26 a week is worth it to have a stadium to be proud of ?