Hawke's Bay to step up 'Canes involvement

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2013

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Taranaki continue to weigh a move to the Chiefs, but Hawke's Bay are keen to take a financial stake in the Hurricanes and hope it will lead to more Super Rugby matches in Napier.

Taranaki Rugby Union chief executive Neil Pennington was unable to confirm the province will be aligned with the Hurricanes next season when contacted this week.

"Anything could happen. I'm really not in a position to comment where we might be next year. At this stage we are part of the Hurricanes but don't have a financial interest at this time," he said.

"At this stage we are just sitting there and haven't changed our view. We took into consideration a lot of factors when we looked at it [the Chiefs] and I don't think many of those factors have changed considerably."

It was revealed in May that Taranaki are considering a shift to the Chiefs with the view to attracting more games and more fans to the region.

However, after investigating other options themselves, Hawke's Bay appear to have decided to stay the course with their home franchise.

Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chief executive Mike Bishop said the final obstacle to investment was ironing out a commercial model to make Hurricanes matches at McLean Park a profitable exercise.

"We've been offered the opportunity to look at it [investing]. The strict commercial terms it was on initially didn't fit comfortably but we are in dialogue and talking about the possibilities," Bishop said.

The Horowhenua Kapiti Rugby Union became the first province outside of Wellington to buy into the franchise when they purchased a 3 per cent stake last week for $100,000.

Hawke's Bay are interested in taking up the remainder of a share left open to the provinces by former chairman Paul Collins.

Collins left a 12.5 per cent stake open when the new private ownership model was announced last year.

Bishop wants to see more Super Rugby played at McLean Park, a venue that's hosted just one Hurricanes match, against the Bulls in 2011, in the past ten years.

"One of the stumbling blocks for us has been around the commercial reality of hosting a game. We got offered a game this year and it just didn't stack up," he said.

"We would have run the game at quite a significant loss. If we can get around that and it fits both parties so we get something out it and the Hurricanes get something in terms of gate return then obviously we are in that space.

"If we have a seat and a voice around the board table that would play a part in it. We'd be buying into the partnership wanting the Hurricanes to be successful across the board."

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McLean Park could at match the crowds currently attending home matches at Westpac Stadium, he said.

Playing matches outside of Wellington has long been a divisive issue within the franchise.

New Plymouth has hosted 11 Hurricanes matches since 1996, while Hawke's Bay have hosted seven and Manawatu 10.

Wellington Rugby Union and Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni denied provinces that could not afford to, or chose not to buy a share, would be disadvantaged, but said there would be obvious perks.

"I wouldn't put it that way, but obviously when a union invests as Horowhenua Kapiti has, when there is an opportunity they are more likely to get a call on day one."

- The Dominion Post

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