Wellington's rugby public will be starved of top-level matches at the height of next season with just one game at Westpac Stadium in 11 long weeks.
The barren period runs from April 19 till July 6, during which the Hurricanes play a solitary Super Rugby game in Wellington, five away matches, a bye and a "home" fixture at a yet-to-be-announced venue in the provinces.
It also coincides with a month-long June test window during which the All Blacks will be playing three tests against France, all away from the capital.
Hurricanes fans won't be missing out as such with seven matches at Westpac Stadium, the same number as last year.
But after visits from the Blues (February 23), Crusaders, Kings, Waratahs and Force (April 19), things grind to a virtual halt. There are just two more fixtures in Wellington, against the Chiefs on May 17 and the Highlanders on July 6 before the playoffs.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett was surprised this week when The Dominion Post pointed out the dates. "Geez, it's a long time away, isn't it? That is amazing. I haven't looked at it that closely in terms of dates yet, but that is a long time. It seemed like we were away an awfully long time last season as well, so I guess it's just something you have to accept."
The Hurricanes' longest stretch away from Wellington last season was six weeks, but Hammett was right to take a philosophical view.
"We throw a lot at them [Sanzar] in times of our preference and days, but we are just one franchise out of 15 and often they will be after similar things. Everyone is trying to get the draw that will suit their franchise best."
Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters said he was aware some teams faced unavoidably long spells away from home next season.
"We certainly try to avoid having situations where a team goes for more than three weeks in a row without a home game, but this doesn't include the June break," he said. "And for next year the complexities of the draw to accommodate the British and Irish Lions tour [of Australia] meant this could not be achieved in all cases."
Westpac Stadium chief executive David Gray was aware of the gap, but did not believe it would affect crowd numbers as much as results.
"They had a very good year last year and I think the Hurricanes will perform even better next year," he said. "This competition gap in the middle is something we're all trying to get used to and that's just the way it's worked out.
"But with my rugby hat on, I just hope we can sustain the interest and that all comes down to the team performance in critical games, that's what keeps the crowds coming back."
The stadium had tried to fill the rugby-free gap with the Home and Living Show, The Food Show and the Armageddon Expo.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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