- By Rolling Maul
In the sometimes-troubled intersection between community and professional sport, this weekend sees the unprecedented situation where Wellington’s rugby faithful are being invited to abandon the free-of-charge sidelines of the Swindale Shield, to pay for a bucket seat at Wellington’s CBD stadium to watch the Hurricanes play the Chiefs.
As Tuesday’s media release states:
The Hurricanes have announced today that their blockbuster top-of-the-table clash with the Chiefs this Saturday will now be played at a family-friendly kick-off of 2:35PM.
The kick-off time has been moved from its original time of 7.05pm (NZST) due to delays in planned Sky Stadium floodlight upgrades. Sky Stadium had hoped to have the upgrades completed last week, ahead of the Hurricanes versus Chiefs match, but safety concerns due to high winds have meant contractors lost half their available workdays since starting the month-long project.
The lights are on track for testing later this week, however, this is too close to Saturday’s game, hence the decision was made to bring forward the kick-off time.
Hurricanes CEO Avan Lee said, “Although the time change would be inconvenient for some people, the safety of the Stadium’s contractors needed to be the priority.
To be fair, at local club grounds with pay TV, it may well be that club supporters keep one-eye on the local game and the other on events in Wellington’s railway yards, however it occurs to this writer that both the Hurricanes and local rugby clubs stand to lose financially by scheduling their competition kick-offs at the same time this coming Saturday afternoon.
On the one-hand, there may be fewer club stalwarts and their families in the local clubrooms at 4.30pm if they choose to head into the CBD to watch the game, on the other there may be fewer seated in the bleachers in Thorndon should community club loyalties prove to be stronger than the lure of Wellington’s Super Rugby team. If the latter – as an example of “the law of unintended consequences” – clubs will benefit, but strangely not the Union.
Noting that the average Super Rugby attendance in Wellington in 2022 was a shade over 7,000 (according to the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust Annual Report), this scribe estimates, based on observations at local Premier Swindale Shield matches over many years, that over 3,000 rugby people are in attendance as spectators scattered on-and-off across the seven Swindale Shield venues across the Wellington region every Saturday afternoon. Plus, over 1,000 players on the field at this time, although fewer this weekend with not all grades in action. Also, others involved in neighbouring Horowhenua-Kapiti and Wairarapa-Bush competitions who typically come down for evening matches.
It will be interesting to see if the average attendance for the Hurricanes is attained (or exceeded) this weekend – and if it is, what it means for the future of the Union’s local clubs.
It is also noted that that, whilst not directly going head-to-head in the same time slot, the Hurricanes are playing Moana Pasifika at 4.35pm on Saturday 13 May. Club rugby kick-off times will probably be ‘brought forward’ that afternoon, to allow all people involved a chance to take their seats for this match. But at the same time the Hurricanes are asking clubs to extinguish after match functions and to gut their clubrooms of patrons on that afternoon and make a beeline for the stadium.
Similarly, the Wellington Lions will be playing the Southland Stags in a Ranfurly Shield defence on Saturday 19 August at 2.05pm. Club rugby will be over by then, but there will likely be a stack of representative games and perhaps some blockbuster school finals or Hurricanes region knockout college matches on at the same time.
Finally, we ask if officials have done enough early this week to move the game to another day such as Sunday or another venue on Saturday night, such as Palmerston North, Napier or even Hamilton (in the latter case an option to explore could have been to switch Saturday’s match with the Chiefs set down for Saturday 20 May at 7.05pm in Hamilton to Wellington and played this Saturday’s fixture in Hamilton).
There is precedent in recent memory, the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 forcing both rugby and cricket to move and re-schedule games at short notice.