Queenstown rugby stalwarts gutted at resort getting the boot

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Queenstown-based ex Otago Rugby Union boss Russell Gray is kicking off that the resort won’t host any 2011 Super 15 matches or pre-season warm-ups. 

The fact the Highlanders aren’t resort-bound next year has also left ex-All Black coach Laurie Mains, who lives locally and is on the Otago Rugby Board, “extremely disappointed”. 

A pre-season Highlanders game against the Blues on January 29 that was potentially earmarked for Queenstown has instead gone to Balclutha near Dunedin, while a battle against the Crusaders on February 11 will be played in Oamaru. 

The pre-season venues were finalised last week. 

“I can assure you that that won’t happen with Otago. The Otago Board is committed to supporting Queenstown,” Mains says. 

Gray is also chief executive of hospitality heavyweight Good Group, which, along with tourism conglomerate Trojan Holdings and Destination Queenstown, stumped up tens of thousands to bring a Highlanders game to town last April. 

After Mountain Scene broke the news to Gray, he said rather than “past or potential prospective sponsors having to guess what their rationale is behind their decision, they might be better to actually have some dialogue with us”. 

“We’re disappointed because we invested to bring Super rugby here in the first place because we believe it’s got one of the best backdrops and scene for any sporting event in New Zealand, and arguably internationally as well. 

“And we made it successful in the early days for everybody, so it’s disappointing that we’re not even getting that opportunity now with a pre-season game, let alone a fully-fledged game,” Gray says. 

Gray wants consistency on hosting decisions. 

“I don’t believe they can afford to continue to ignore this part of the territory of their franchise, because it’s ever-growing and expanding,” he says. 

Highlander’s general manager Roger Clark cites cost-saving as a reason why Queenstown missed out. 

“If we go to Queenstown for the Blues game, it’s a night’s accommodation for the Highlanders and the Blues…but for a game at Balclutha, we can get both teams in and out on the same day and play a one o’clock game and not have to accommodate anyone.” 

The same applies for the Oamaru match, he says, adding the games just don’t pull in the punters. 

All eight of the Highlanders Super 15 home matches are night games, ruling out the resort as a destination since Queenstown Events Centre doesn’t have lights. 

Clark: “Obviously we’re disappointed as well but the bottom line is, with no lights and all night games, it’s not possible to [play in Queenstown].” 

The schedule is decided by rugby body South Africa New Zealand Australia Rugby, he says. 

Wanaka is likely to see the Highlanders squad and their families – about 80 people – for a week-long pre-season camp being held there from January 17 till 21. 

Queenstown hosted Highlander matches in 2007 and 2008 before getting punted in favour of Palmerston North for a ‘home game’ last year. 

In 2007 the revenue generated from the Queenstown game against the Chiefs was the highest that season for the Highlanders franchise.