Are the All Blacks worth a costly stadium?

WILL HARVIE
Last updated 15:53 06/06/2014

The English rugby team will play three tests in New Zealand this month, none of them in Christchurch. Instead, we get a mid-week match between the English B and Crusaders B teams (it could still be great game, I've got tickets in The Lair).

Have we arrived at our future: Christchurch gets fewer test matches and against lesser opponents because we haven't got a good and big enough rugby stadium? It's a good time to reflect on whether that matters.

Should we invest about $300 million in a rectangular, roofed stadium in central Christchurch, as per the Blueprint and the cost sharing agreement,  so we get the big matches (and big concerts)? Or should we aim for something more affordable and accept we'll see less of the national squad?

We were already falling behind before the earthquakes.

I have analysed every All Black home match 1999 to 2014 - 16 years - and the pattern is that Auckland gets about two tests a year - 28 in total - and fair enough.

Christchurch and Dunedin got almost one test a year (14 each), Hamilton slightly fewer (10). The outlier was Wellington, which has hosted 19 All Black tests over the period.

All Blacks v France haka in Christchurch

Wellington is about the same size as Christchurch and its fans are no more deserving of All Black tests than Cantabrians so how come they got 26 per cent more tests than Canterbury over the last 16 years? Plus Wellington gets the Sevens.

This isn't just an earthquake effect. Yes, Christchurch lost All Blacks games in 2011 and wasn't awarded one this year. But Wellington also gained on the Canterbury capital by hosting two matches in the 2003, 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Christchurch has never seen the All Blacks twice in one season in the 16 years of the study.

Cardiff, on the other hand, has seen the All Blacks 10 times during the study period, same as Hamilton.

Rugby World Cup matches from 2011 were excluded from my analysis. Had they been included, the skew against Christchurch would be more pronounced, but also misleading. The quakes were extraordinary events that don't tell us anything about the thinking of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, which decides where home tests are played.

Meanwhile, remember that not all All Blacks matches are equal. In 2009, for example, Christchurch hosted Italy while Wellington saw France and Australia. In 2008, Christchurch got England while Wellington got Ireland and South Africa. Christchurch has been promised an All Blacks game next year - against Argentina.

So, while watching the England tests on television this month (or freezing in the dark watching Andrew Ellis take on Danny Cipriani at the Crusader's June 17th game), ponder whether your viewing circumstances are unsatisfactory. Does it matter if Wellington continues to outpace us, that Dunedin and perhaps Hamilton will pass us?

Do we need to spend $300m on a 35,000-seat, roofed stadium or can we get away with a smaller, cheaper stadium?

The Lions tour New Zealand in 2017 and it's looking unlikely that a new stadium will be ready. If not, Christchurch looks good for more mid-week, under-strength games. Can you live with that?

- The Press

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