Every time you go to a new ground to watch any sport (in this case Super Rugby) first impressions are all important. So from the moment you drive towards it, Forsyth-Barr Stadium makes an impact. A great structure with terrific views from all sides, add in a replay of last seasons Championship final and you end up with a worthy occasion.
The match-up was naturally the first reason I chose to venture south. Residing in Auckland, it is literally ‘the other end of the country’ for me. But the attraction of visiting the only covered stadium in New Zealand (NZ) was a real bonus. The Highlanders home ground is admired from the North, so this Jafa made the booking months ago and was not disappointed.
The result on the field was riveting, only settled with minutes to spare in fact; the home side had the opening try to All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa, only for Beauden Barrett to open up the Landers backline for a good response. That saw the match delicately placed with ten minutes to play. The winning of the NZ derby was a penalty from a long period of attack where The Highlanders crossed twice, both times called back by referee Glenn Jackson. Final score 17-16.
Fans left content, with maybe a mild case of heart-in-mouth when their men were behind, but a maturing side have better composure in 2016, as Jamie Joseph told the waiting media post game.
This was also my first post as a bona fide member of that media contingent; rewarded by The Highlanders organisation to be present and report first-hand on the ‘hive of activity and action’ that goes on behind the scenes at all major sports grounds. People everywhere, all busily going about their roles as the action is played out on the pitch.
After years reporting for Last Word On Sports from the ground seats as both fan and correspondent, this access allowed during this crucial Round Two game of Super Rugby 2016 rewards you with [arguably] not only the best seat in the house, but also exposure to the huge operation that goes in presenting the ‘product’.
Today, Rugby is a product marketed by NZ Rugby and its SANZAAR broadcast partner Sky Sports. That is streamed worldwide, so teams like The Highlanders and Hurricanes now have adopted fans from across the globe, in a game that is growing due to new territories, with more men, women and children taking up the sport. After 21 seasons of the competition and with an increased focus, the venues must also adapt.
The operation behind the sidelines is like a ‘hive’ as firstly, players are accommodated and match officials naturally. Alongside that are the fans, security and concession stands, merchandise and operations staff. Add on top of that the massive Sky outside broadcast team and the associated media, it really is an orchestrated effort and kudos should be given to the hard work put in by these teams.
That same effort is put in whenever a match is played but the location is well designed for this game. Rectangular, not an adopted Football or Cricket ground, that allows patrons to easily see the play. Suggestions would be for a clock be situated, as the replay screens do not always show time left to play – but otherwise, it was seamless.
By the end of the game, as the whistle is blown and patrons lead out of Forsyth-Barr Stadium, the media then converge on exhausted players and coaches to gain first-hand knowledge of the outcome. First Aaron Smith, then captain Ben Smith, the local boy who puts his body on the line each game. Barrett follows, with a cherished quiet moment between the players as they joke over who got the better of the other.
Beauden states that his men “had the opportunity to finish it [the match] off but didn’t take it.” True, but he follows that up by answering that the side are happy how they are going about their game it’s just the results haven’t gone their way yet. Jamie Joseph says the same, that his side were “trying to build; in our conference so far, build in good standards.”
Both sides are yet to travel outside Australasia, and in regions like Australia, South Africa and including South America and Japan in 2016, every side will be exposed to Stadia that are world-class. In NZ, there is one in Forsyth-Barr Stadium which presents a great product. That is for both direct viewers [on-site] like this reporter was and for the millions watching around the world.
Little do they see of the mini world running around like worker bees in a hive of activity and action in the tunnels and side rooms. On this night, it worked perfectly. The 15,000 present had a warm, fun and exhilarating evening. There were no streakers this evening, although nobody’s wants to see a repeat of last week’s antics at Eden Park from the Zoo [the University students stand made famous in Dunedin] – a wildly popular area to watch games from at the ‘Toast Rack’, the local name given to this well constructed venue.
The touring Wales team visit the venue in June to face the Highlanders and expectations are for nothing less than another well-drilled production from the Dunedin ground. It offers the best conditions, a dry and fast pitch able to deliver a game that had everyone present on the edge of their seats right up to the final minutes. A great night of Rugby and in Super Rugby, expect more of the same over the next 15 weeks as teams jossle for Southern superiority.
Good times at Forsyth-Barr Stadium. Now, where did I put my bottle of Speights!