Don’t count on local support

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Ask Palmerston North to pay for the stadium.

Punting Queenstown and pro­moting Palmerston North for a 2009 Highlanders rugby fixture will hit
local support for Dunedin’s proposed Otago Stadium.

So says Queenstown-based Otago stalwart and former All Black Duncan Robertson.

“Dunedin and the Otago Rugby Football Union won’t be backward at coming forward to ask Queenstown for funding for the new stadium.

“I think they might get a slap in the face if they’re not going to support Queens­town and the rural area of Otago.”

Having been awarded Highlanders games over the past two Easters, Queenstown recently learnt it won’t host another Super 14 match next season.

Sky TV wants the two games sched­uled in New Zealand that weekend played at night to maximise ratings – and the Events Centre hasn’t got lights.

Locals bitter over missing out were stunned this week to learn Palmerston North will host the Highlanders in a “home” game because of a financial deal with the Manawatu Rugby Union.

Robertson: “From a Queenstown perspective it’s disappointing it’s gone to somewhere else but it’s doubly disappointing when it’s gone to the North Island, outside the franchise area.

“I think it’s disgusting.”

Echoing Robertson, local Chamber of Commerce president Alastair Porter notes “it’s unfortunate when Dunedin is seeking support for their stadium that they’re having a home game in Palmerston North”.

Porter says if the Highlanders are concerned about crowd numbers or needed the game underwritten, “we would at least like to have had the opportunity to participate in a discussion to see if we could make it happen”.

He doesn’t concede Queenstown can only pull big crowds at Easter.

Local national rugby sevens co-organiser Richie Anderson says: “When you look to improve the roof of your house, you look at your house; you don’t go to someone else’s.”

Arrowtown businessman Bruce Gibbs adds: “You’ve got to encourage the people to come to Dunedin [for Tests] and you do that by coming here and showing off your wares.”

Highlanders boss Richard Reid says the decision to bypass Queenstown next year “was taken out of our hands by the NZ Rugby Union”.

“They pointed out there were only two Super 14 games at Easter therefore the broadcaster had requested they both be night games.

“And the information we got from the local people is that lights around an airport aren’t really a good idea.”
Couldn’t Queenstown have got another weekend game?

“[Events Centre operator] Lakes Leisure had indicated that holiday weekends were when they wanted to host – within that timeframe there were no other holiday weekends.”

Reid confirms this year’s game wasn’t as successful as 2007 – when the Queenstown match was the High­landers’ most profitable of the season.

It was said the Warbirds over Wanaka, on the same March weekend might have affected crowd numbers?

“That’s possible – but you can look at it another way: there’s 80,000 people in the area, you thought a few of them might have gone to the footy.”

So what’s he think of Duncan Robertson’s view that Otago Stadium fundraisers will now get a bad reception from Queenstowners?

Reid: “I don’t really have a comment on that, it’s Duncan’s opinion.”

How can they follow their heroes?

The future of homegrown rugby talent may be threatened by the absence of Highlanders visiting the Wakatipu, warn school rugby coaches.

Central Otago rugby volunteers believe young players are being ignored by the Otago Rugby Football Union.

Merv Aoake, Wakatipu Under-18 coach and Wakatipu High rugby volunteer, says losing a Queenstown-based game during next year’s Super 14 further distances local fans from the club and that the ORFU is ignoring the area “at their peril”.

“It makes it hard for a lot of young fellas to attach themselves to Otago and Highlanders rugby.”

The Highlanders haven’t visited young Wakatipu players for coaching or mentoring sessions “for a number of years”, he says.

“Rugby’s future is in the kids.”

Over the hill, Mt Aspiring College rugby administrator Hamish Crosbie says he’s been told by ORFU officials that schools need to be proactive if they want the Highlanders to visit.

“[Wellington’s] Hurricanes assign players and they have to go out once a month and are expected to do something with the school kids to keep the profile of rugby strong. The kids just don’t know anything about the players and don’t have an affiliation with the Highlanders because they have never been visited by them.”