IRB Junior World Championship fails to connect

FULL FLIGHT: Arthur Bonneval of France beats the tackle of Jack Dixon of Wales during the 2014 Junior World Championship match at ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe on June 15.
FULL FLIGHT: Arthur Bonneval of France beats the tackle of Jack Dixon of Wales during the 2014 Junior World Championship match at ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe on June 15.

The IRB Junior World Championship has been regarded as a success on the field, but off it some prominent Franklin leaders have questioned whether the district made the most of it.

The event, which is the second-largest rugby tournament in the world with an estimated television audience of 262 million homes in more than 140 countries, had low crowd numbers and minimal interaction with the Franklin community.

Pukekohe's ECOLight Stadium hosted 12 matches over four competition days, sharing games with North Harbour Stadium and Eden Park.

Franklin Local Board chairman Andy Baker volunteered on all four Pukekohe match days and was impressed with what he saw on the field but thought more could have been done off it.

"The crowd numbers were really disappointing but that is probably down to a pretty average marketing effort by the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) locally and things such as timing, weather and the amount of quality rugby we get to see at present at a range of levels from club to All Blacks," he said.

New Zealand's sole Pukekohe game coinciding with a major storm and the side's performance, which included two losses to South Africa, were believed to be two of the reasons for the low attendance.

But Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) chief executive Brett O'Riley said attendance numbers were similar to previous years.

"From what we understand from New Zealand Rugby, attendances were in line with previous IRB Junior World Championship tournaments,."

He said ATEED had received positive feedback about the matches at ECOLight Stadium.

"The match days at ECOlight Stadium were very successful operationally and both New Zealand Rugby and the International Rugby Board have commented on the efficient way the matches were run at the venue," he said.

The NZRU organised visits for teams to schools and clubs across Auckland during the tournament but just one was officially scheduled in Pukekohe - Ireland at the Pukekohe Rugby Club - due to a lack of applications from local schools and clubs.

Former Steelers midfielder Sean Lineen and his Scottish side visited the Bombay Rugby Club but that was not part of the official programme.

Pukekohe Business Association manager Kendyl Gibson said an event such as a Meet the New Zealand team at the Pukekohe Town Square would have helped create more interest.

She said it was great having the tournament in Pukekohe but thought that its full potential was not reached.

"We are a rugby nation and it was a really cool event to have in Pukekohe but I think there were some lost opportunities," she said. ‘I think that promotion was a little late."

She saw some of the under-20s teams training on parks around Pukekohe and thought there should have been more communication so locals could get along to watch them.

Baker said the poor marketing did not help the area.

"[It is] hard to say [if Pukekohe made the most of the tournament], probably not," he said.

"There doesn't seem to have been much interest, which was not helped by the average marketing and engagement. Everything seemed very last minute in regard to ticket offerings and getting people excited or interested."

But Baker, Gibson and Franklin Tourism Group's Dee Bond believed that the exposure Pukekohe received on the international stage would be invaluable.

"From a sports perspective, I think it was huge for our area," Bond said.

Regardless of the off-field results, the class on the field was clear.

New Zealand's star winger Tevita Li was in devastating form, scoring seven tries, second only to Australia's Andrew Kellaway (10), while the Baby Boks' Handre Pollard, who has been called into the Springboks to play Scotland this weekend, won the IRB Junior Player of the Year.

England claimed the Junior World Championship title for the second year in a row after beating South Africa in the final 21-20 at Eden Park on Friday.