Revelling in the big events

Let us revel in the triumph of the Highlanders over the British and Irish Lions on Tuesday night. A near-full Forsyth Barr Stadium roared with delight when the visitors were vanquished.

This might not have been the premier Lions lineup, the one that will front in the tests, but the players are still part of the select cream across four nations, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

The Highlanders were seriously depleted, missing Ben Smith and Aaron Smith on All Black duty, and five others - including Elliot Dixon - who have assembled with the Maori All Blacks.

The ferocity and the focus were phenomenal, even if mistakes helped lead to two of the Lions' tries. And how the back-up warriors performed. Little-sighted lock Jackson Hemopo gave it all and second-five Tei Walden looked the part. What about the leadership and all-round strength of stand-in captain Luke Whitelock or the power and purpose of Waisake Naholo?

That scrum, as the second half ticked away, when the under-rated Highlanders' pack demolished their international counterparts, was inspiring. Up stepped the hero of the last half hour, first-five Marty Banks, to kick the pivotal penalty. As he said, amid the after-match glow, the win could not top victory in the Super Rugby championship two seasons ago. But it was the next best thing.

This was sport at its best, at least from the standpoint of Highlanders' supporters - tense, exciting, uncertain, skilful. It warmed southern hearts on a chilly night.

Let us revel, too, in the stadium. Just imagine Tuesday night at Carisbrook amid bitter showers and the sharp sou'wester. It would have been miserable for the fans and much more difficult for the players. Night rugby in June when the weather turns foul would have been for all concerned, challenging, to put it euphemistically. The glorious history of beloved Carisbrook is missed, but not much else about the old girl.

We should revel in the stadium especially because of the threat from Christchurch. Interests there are promoting a feasibility study into a precinct with a covered rugby pitch-size arena. AMI Stadium is written off and land is available close to the central city.

No doubt, the push will be for an arena of about 30,000 capacity, just enough to trump Forsyth Barr, especially when air links to Christchurch, its accommodation and its larger population are considered. That will make it all the more difficult for the South to secure big rugby tests and big concerts.

The three Ed Sheeran concerts in Dunedin are already being cited as a reason why Christchurch must have a large covered stadium. The line the stadium will be multi-purpose - where has that been heard before? - is being pushed.

Christchurch ratepayers will have to realise, however, that covered stadiums are hugely expensive, and exponentially so as capacity increases. Dunedin and the South must be hoping that cost is prohibitive and the cover on Christchurch's stadium is a step too far.

So much in the South Island - including many concerts - is centralised in Canterbury and Dunedin people are used to travelling north for many events. Surely, one covered stadium for the South Island and for New Zealand is sufficient and more is unnecessary and expensive duplication. Surely, Dunedin can still host some of the biggest attractions in the South Island.

The Highlanders have disbanded for two weeks and take a well-deserved breather before Super Rugby resumes after the Lions' tests.

Rugby followers will then be able to revel in the last of their season, hopefully culminating in a strong finals run, before attention turns to another big event, a Bledisloe Cup test against Australia at the stadium on August 26.

Comments

Rather good sports writing here, with alliteration and rhythmic sentence structure.