Farewell to Carisbrook, the House of Pain

BY MARC HINTON IN DUNEDIN
Last updated 05:00 18/06/2010

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It's just a rugby ground - bricks and mortar surrounding a rectangular piece of grass. Well past its best, too, rickety, rusty and ready to be put out to pasture in favour of a brand spanking new piece of modern technology.

But there's something about Carisbrook, the iconic international rugby ground situated in working class south Dunedin, that has always evoked a certain charm, a certain aura.

Whether it's been the heavy student presence on the sweeping terrace or the trademark warm southern charm, this is a ground that has usually produced a pretty special atmosphere and, for the most part, been somewhat of a fortress for the All Blacks over 102 years of tst rugby.

New Zealand's finest have played 36 tests there - not counting the unofficial international against Argentina in 1979 - and won 30 of them, with just the one draw, 9-9 against the British & Irish Lions back in 1950.

Two of the five defeats have come against the Lions (1930 and '71), while Australia (2001), South Africa ('08) and France ('09) have also blotted the All Black copybook at their southernmost test venue.

The first ever test was 1908's 32-5 victory over the touring Lions, while arguably the most famous was the 18-17 win over the Lions in 1959 where Don 'The Boot' Clarke landed six penalty goals to send 41,500 spectators home in a state of delirium.

But now the curtain comes down on this rickety old stadium, with Saturday night's test against Wales the final international to be played on its hallowed surface, with the new, roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium being built on prime Dunedin waterfront land, to assume responsibilities from next year's World Cup and beyond.

So what does it all mean for the All Blacks who have the honour of playing the country's final test on this ground? Not to mention the responsibility of ending a two-game losing streak - the Boks in '08 and France last year -- and sending the grand old dame out in style?

If you listen to Wales' Kiwi coach Warren Gatland not that much. He wasn't too sure if the modern rugby player had any place for sentimentality in their professional ethos, and that they "didn't care what happened 50 or 100 years ago".

But speaking to the All Blacks in Dunedin this week as they prepared for this historic occasion, there was no doubting how much the Carisbrook factor was playing on their minds.

Here's what our All Blacks had to say about the honour of playing the final test on one of the great international grounds:

Dan Carter: "There's some real history behind Carisbrook. We haven't been too successful the last couple of games and we want to turn that round and win well for the people of Dunedin."

Israel Dagg: "It's a pretty cool ground, it's been around for a while and hopefilly we can send it off on a winning note."

Kieran Read: "It's something we really have to do right. There's a lot of tradition there, it's going to be a great atmosphere and hopefully we send it off in the right way."

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Brad Thorn: "This is personal for me, probably a little bit emotional. This is where it all started for me, I've got a lot of family down here, and this is Carisbrook. It's what Dad used to talk about when I was a kid."

Conrad Smith: "It's pretty special, and I think everyone is aware of it. We went to the Gardies [pub] on Tuesday night, and the guys are aware of significant icons that are leaving fine cities round here."

Jimmy Cowan: "You just want to bless it on the right note. It's been disappointing the last two years when we haven't fronted for them. So the onus is on us to send it off the right way."

Richard Kahui: "It's special, it's been around forever and the All Blacks have always had a good record here bar the last two games. I played for the Highlanders here in 2006, and it became the first place I played pro rugby and was a launching pad to where I am now. I  just hope we get the lively crowd you expect here for the last hurrah."

Richie McCaw: "I guess there are a few memories watching games while at school down here. It's always a wee bit sad when it's the last game somewhere, but that's the way it is and that new place will be pretty good too."

Graham Henry: "It's a great ground, marvellous surface, and there have been many fabulous games played there by both Otago and the All Blacks. We'd like to leave that ground with fond memories, and I'm sure the ground would like to close with fond memories."

Wayne Smith: "My most graphic memory was the Lions in '83 when it was either hailing or snowing, it was bloody cold, and we had a North-South match here that was the same. We've had some really good occasions here with Canterbury and of course the Crusaders in '99 winning the final down here. It's like an old gentleman of New Zealand rugby, isn't it?"

Victor Vito: "Any test you play at home is special, but especially at Carisbrook which is a fine historical place."

Warren Gatland (Wales coach and former All Black): "We're honoured to be part of history here. As a player I know how difficult it was to come here and get a performance when you were playing Otago. It's not the easiest place in the world to come and get a result."

Read Mike Houlihan's feature on Carisbrook here

All Blacks vs Wales, Carisbrook, Saturday, 7.30pm.

On the web: visit www.rugbymuseum.co.nz for a comprehensive rundown of All Black history.

- Fairfax Media

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