They might be used to manicured turf at the world's best stadiums, but those playing in the Super Rugby warm-up match in Mangatainoka should still expect the odd sheep dropping.
The fourth annual pre-season fixture at the Mangatainoka RFC ground just north of Pahiatua kicks off this afternoon.
This year home team the Hurricanes take on last year's Super Rugby champions the Chiefs, after previous outings against the Blues and Crusaders.
Played on the farm of Neil "Skin" Symonds, the day out has become a popular season-opener, with Sir Colin Meads calling it "the greatest thing that's happened in New Zealand rugby for quite a long time".
And while Mr Symonds took his sheep off the paddock at the start of the year, they may have left a surprise or two for any unsuspecting players.
"It should be pretty clear but there's the odd [dropping] I leave lying around out there," he said. "That's just to keep the Hurricanes' management on edge."
For the past three months he has sprayed the pitch with about 100,000 litres of water from his man-made lake in an effort to combat the region's tinder- dry conditions.
After a final irrigation on Thursday the grass gets a light mow the day before the game, and the pitch is marked.
"It's nice and lush and green, it's looking absolutely tip-top," he said.
Last year the Hurricanes went down to the Crusaders 19-8.
The home team's only win came in 2011 against the Chiefs.
All four games have been sell-outs, with fans snapping up the 8000 tickets on offer.
The park is just down the road from the Tui brewery, and has grown into a tremendous source of pride for the 150 villagers based at Mangatainoka.
Tui Brewery commercial manager Nick Rogers said organisers had preparation down to an art.
"Each year we've got about two days quicker, the stands go up faster, so everything's under control."
Today promises to be a "full-on game" played over two halves rather than the usual quarters.
Half-time entertainment will be provided to "give people a few reasons not to take their clothes off", Mr Rogers said. See tomorrow's Sunday Star-Times for full match coverage.
- The Dominion Post
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