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The final Pack the Park game in Invercargill promises to be a star-studded thank-you to the community as the Southland Charity Hospital draws closer to its official opening.
Five years on from the late Blair Vining’s original bucket list game, Pack the Park 2024 will be played at Invercargill’s Rugby Park on January 27.
In 2018, Vining was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bowel cancer and told he had only weeks to live.
That was the beginning of a mission, alongside wife Melissa and daughters Della-May and Lilly, advocating for those impacted by cancer — a journey which included the establishment of the Southland Charity Hospital in 2019.
The most-capped player and youngest-ever life member of Winton’s Midlands rugby club, Vining’s love of the game was the catalyst for Pack the Park, which was first played in front of 650 people in Winton in 2019 and a year later attracted 6000 to the second edition at Rugby Park.
It is a game which brings together big names from across New Zealand sport and entertainment, along with many of the people who knew and loved Vining best.
While lips are tight about who will be running out on to Rugby Park in January, some of the names from the past two editions have included former All Blacks Mils Muliana, Ma’a Nonu, Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan, Corey Flynn, Israel Dagg and Sir Graham Henry.
The 2000 game included an emotional haka by Vining’s beloved Central Southland College first XV and an impressive performance by former All Black Carlos Spencer.
Spencer helped the Blair Vining XV to a 54-17 win over an Invitational XV which featured an equally eye-catching outing by Troy Flavell and boxing superstar Joseph Parker as waterboy.
Melissa Vining said the lineup across the Blair Vining XV and Invitational XV again promised to provide plenty of entertainment.
"We’re so grateful for the people all around New Zealand who are coming back for the event and the new people participating for the first time. Pack the Park would also not be possible without our generous sponsors and supporters.
"This final Pack the Park is to celebrate the community’s fundraising achievement to build the hospital. It’s exciting and humbling that the community has helped me tick off Blair’s dying wish and we’ll be able to open the hospital early next year for Southland and Otago," said Melissa.
It was exciting to see the Southland Charity Hospital, which would initially provide colonoscopies and dental care for those across the Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand southern zone who were unable to access public or private care, nearing completion, she said.
"It’s incredibly exciting seeing the final stages of the hospital coming to fruition, with a recent highlight of taking Southland and Otago nurses through the completed operating theatre."
January’s Pack the Park will be free to the public, with tickets now available at ticketek.co.nz
The grandstand and family zone are almost sold out, but there is still room in the terraces.