Anywhere but Masterton - that is the view of Mangatainoka business owners after learning the rugby match that "put the town on the map" will not be returning to Tararua next year.
When the Hurricanes play the Blues in a Tui-sponsored pre-season Super Rugby match on the first Saturday in February, the paddock the players run out on to will not be the one maintained by Neil "Skin" Symonds. Instead Tui expect a similar crowd to the 7000-plus that have packed in to Mangatainoka over the past four years to turn up at Memorial Park in Masterton.
The venue change is a forced move. Mr Symonds is in poor health but said he hoped to host the previously annual fixture again in 2015.
"I was told by the specialist to back off with the work and if you don't listen to him, who do you listen to?" he said. "Then I started thinking very, very strongly about doing it anyway but my family intervened . . . I'm really disappointed . . . the community got such great benefit out of it."
Business owners in the town are also disappointed, with many calling for Tui to look at holding the match at the Pahiatua rugby club.
"Everyone around here gets so excited for this game and the school kids work so hard at fundraising," said Tui View Bed and Breakfast owner Kathy Howland. "To lose it to the town completely has put a lot of people out - I already had people fully booked in for that weekend.
"There's still time for Tui to turn this around and they should because it just won't be the same if it's not close to the brewery."
Property manager Annie Sowry said the town would rally to help organise the game at an alternate local venue if given the chance.
"It's not right moving it to Masterton. That match put us on the map, it's one of our little claims to fame, and no-one in this town wants to give that up. We'll chip in and volunteer to help organise a game here if it means we can keep it local."
Pahiatua Post Office Hotel owner Peter Bourke said the match was his biggest weekend of the year. If it had to be moved, the most logical place was Pahiatua to keep it near the brewery.
Mr Symonds said the offers of help and the desire to keep it in the town were appreciated.
While Masterton was not the ideal location, he said there was nowhere in the immediate area with the facilities to successfully host a match of that size.
Tui representatives could not be reached for comment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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