NZ Local News

Hurricanes’ hopes for rugby at Napier’s McLean Park hit by pitch problems

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Hurricanes fans out for a glimpse of their heroes — with five Magpies in the squad — during training at the HBRU headquarters in Orotu Dr, Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor

Two early-season Hawke’s Bay defences of the Ranfurly Shield may have to be played at a venue other than Napier’s McLean Park because of ground surface work to be carried out by Napier City Council.

The ground will be out of action for up to three months, stretching to early July, by which time NPC professional side the Magpies would have expected to have faced two defences against sides from amateur rugby’s Heartland Championship.

Isaia Walker-Leawere poses with a fan. Photo / Paul Taylor
Isaia Walker-Leawere poses with a fan. Photo / Paul Taylor

Hawke’s Bay Today has also learned Super Rugby, involving either home-region franchise the Wellington-based Hurricanes or Moana Pacifika, would have been played at McLean Park this year but for clashes of dates, including a four-day Central Stags Plunket Shield cricket match already booked for the park in March.

Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union CEO Jay Campbell said eight Heartland rugby unions had applied for challenges for the Ranfuly Shield, in addition to the home NPC matches against Southland, Northland, Tasman, Taranaki (who won the Magpies’ first-ever NPC final last season) and Auckland.

The Magpies snatched the Shield back from Wellington with a 20-18 win in the capital on September 30 last year, after which game the trophy – a replica of the century-old original – was broken in two during post-match team revelry in Napier early the next morning.

Campbell said the Hawke’s Bay union hopes to announce the shield defence schedule – or at least the dates for the two non-NPC defences – soon, saying the union doesn’t want to have to take the shield “on the road”, an option taken by some shield holders in the past once they’ve had the trophy in the cabinet for 2-3 years.

As it happens, Hawke’s Bay doesn’t have the trophy in the cabinet, due to it being sent back to the NZRU for repairs after the mishap. It has not yet been repaired and the NZRU has made no further announcements, although Campbell said his union hopes to have it back by April.

Options for the early shield matches in Hawke’s Bay would include Park Island in Napier, the regional sports park in Hastings or smaller-town venues in Wairoa, Waipukurau or Dannevirke.

Napier City Council events manager Kevin Murphy said the McLean Park turf needs 10cm shaved from the top as part of the programme in the 10-year life of a hybrid surface and new drainage installation six years ago.

Planning had started before Hawke’s Bay regained the shield and the park is scheduled to be closed-off until early July, he said. He expects the works will improve the surface for a wider arrange of events.

He said the loss of a Super Rugby opportunity involved hopes of a Moana Pasifika home game in Napier on March 8 being abandoned when the draft draw was changed, by which stage Hurricanes negotiations for a match in Palmerston North were well-advanced.

In relation to the Plunket Shield cricket, he said nearby Nelson Park was not an option due to New Zealand Cricket’s removal of first-class match rating for the ground, and Palmerston North had been unavailable for a match transfer because suitable pitches were not available.

The Plunket Shield matches had been booked for McLean Park before the Super Rugby draw was decided, he said.

The failure of attempts to accommodate a Super Rugby game with a likely attendance of more than 10,000 has left Campbell frustrated and worried about the future availability and suitability of McLean Park.

While it is unlikely the Magpies would take the Ranfurly Shield on the road, Hawke’s Bay has done so twice in the past, for a 20-11 win over Wellington in 1925 and a 17-15 win over Canterbury in 1926.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes on Friday ended a two-day camp in Hawke’s Bay, with five Magpies in the squad at training at the HBRU headquarters in Orotu Dr, Napier, along with two others on national development contracts.

Magpies player Devan Flanders, now in his fifth season, and new coach and Scotsman Craig Laidlaw both expressed their dreams of the Hurricanes winning the title for only the second time in the near 30 years of professional Super Rugby.

Flanders was confidently forecasting the Hurricanes will feature in what would be just the third final for the franchise, but he wasn’t predicting who the opposition would be.

Both said it was good to be able to be in Hawke’s Bay after the year the region had been through after Cyclone Gabrielle.

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