Fans fear losing Chiefs games to New Plymouth

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2013

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Waikato rugby supporters are not happy with the addition of Taranaki to the Chiefs catchment, concerned the deal will take games away from core supporters.

It comes after an announcement on Tuesday that Taranaki has joined the Chiefs franchise, and will host two Chiefs home games in each of the next two seasons.

Waikato Rugby Supporters Club president Wayne Albiston said the move wasn't good for supporters of the Chiefs, in particular those in Counties Manukau and Bay of Plenty.

He said while there is certainty as to how many games are played in Hamilton for the next two years, he fears more games could be taken away after that.

"We see it as the corporate businesses looking after themselves and each other," he said. "As a supporters' club that's been going on for over 40 years; we were not approached at all for our opinion. We're pretty disappointed about that.

"Who knows what the new format will be when the Super 15 is reconstructed in a couple of years' time. What I fear is that if we lose more games from the stadium, there will be a huge drop off in numbers coming along to watch them."

Taranaki supporters' club president Grant Hassall said New Plymouth should get two Chiefs games a year, but doesn't think it should have any more than that.

"I can't imagine Taranaki getting any more than two games a year, and to be brutally honest, with our population base, I don't think we could sustain any more than two games a year."

He said Taranaki people were more interested in ITM Cup rugby, rather than Super 15, because of a lack of matches played in the region over the years.

When Super teams did play in Taranaki, it would often be a Hurricanes match against a South African team, which had little interest to the region.

While Hassall said he is happy that more games will be played in New Plymouth, he is also conscious of Counties Manakau and Bay of Plenty fans interest in the team, and having games there.

"They obviously have interest in the Chiefs as well and it's as much their team as it is Waikato's team, or dare I say it, our team, so we don't want to be taking games away from them at all."

New Zealand Rugby general manager strategic relationships Nigel Cass said the Chiefs were asked to conduct a survey of fans for their opinions on the Taranaki proposal.

"This showed a clear majority of fans either supporting Taranaki joining the Chiefs catchment or indifferent," he said.

"This gave us the comfort we needed to continue with the process."

Chiefs' chief executive Andrew Flexman said he is satisfied with the process, and said bringing Taranaki in was the right financial decision for the business.

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"You're going to get some upset people, that always happens with change," he said.

"But at the end of the day, they are the Waikato Rugby Supporters Group, and have nothing to do with Waikato rugby. They are a separate entity.

"I won't be losing any sleep over the decision. It's a good business decision."

- Waikato Times

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