MARTIN DE RUYTER
Match organisers are expecting scenes to surpass 2011 when the Crusaders come to Trafalgar Park in May.
We've all seen Daniel Carter kick with precision on TV. The same goes for Julian Savea bulldozing over opposition defenders. We've seen Richie McCaw, time after time, tackle the house down and epitomise what it means to be a leader. You can always count on Conrad Smith to snake through a gap, and we've seen him do that a fair few times too, often popping up outside Ma'a Nonu.
But have you ever seen it all happen at Trafalgar Park on a Friday night?
There is real excitement down at the Tasman Rugby Union headquarters ahead of the blockbuster May 29 Super Rugby clash between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, with two squads stacked with All Blacks set to lock horns in a game Tasman chief executive Tony Lewis is labelling one of the biggest to ever come to Nelson.
"The way I'm looking at this it could technically be the last All Black trial before the team is picked to go the World Cup. I counted 24 All Blacks playing and when was the last time the Nelson public got to see 24 All Blacks on Trafalgar Park? Never," Lewis said.
Tickets for the match go on sale on Thursday and Lewis said the message was clear; be in quick.
"My advice is that if you're thinking of buying a ticket, buy it now if you want to be in the stand, otherwise you might miss out.
"The Crusaders horses and all of the hype that comes with a Crusaders match is coming to town too.
"This is a local derby, it's the start of a long weekend and you can't get much better than that."
More than 12,000 spectators are expected to attend this match, and to cater for the bumper crowd, two temporary stands will be set up at the eastern and southern ends of the ground.
The eastern stand will have a capacity of 4700, with 2300 able to fit into the southern end. The capacity for seating across the stadium is 9000, with thousands more able to watch from the embankment.
It has been four years since the Crusaders played a Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park and Lewis said a full house was the best way to encourage their return. He was confident the match would be well received in Nelson because of the calibre of players on display, and because it's a long weekend and Nelson is smack-bang in the middle of both regions, it is an attractive fixture for visiting supporters too.
"Our aim is that if the public can get behind this that every four years the Crusaders versus the Hurricanes will be held around Queen's Birthday Weekend.
"This is the fixture we'd love to have long term but more importantly for us, we have to make the model work.
"If we get 12,000 people the Crusaders will find it very, very difficult, with the business model put in front of them, not to bring more games to Nelson."
Though there will be All Blacks scattered through both teams, another notable point for Nelson fans is the number of players with strong ties to the region, including Tasman Makos Kieron Fonotia, Tim Perry, David Havili, Billy Guyton and Peter Samu who are all in the 2015 Crusaders squad.
There are others who grew up in Nelson, including former Nelson College first XV captain Mitchell Drummond, while in the Hurricanes there's another college old boy and former Mako in James Marshall.
"We couldn't have asked for any more support than we got and it's been incredible. We know the region will get in behind our team and make the event a complete success," he said.Lewis praised the support from mayor Rachel Reese and the Nelson City Council, who have worked "tirelessly" to make sure this match could be staged in Nelson. The game has received sponsorship funding from the Nelson events marketing and development programme, which is funded by council.
Mayor Rachel Reese said, "The talent on Trafalgar Park will be exceptional. More than 20 All Blacks will be taking to the field and I'm sure we're in for a ripper of a game. Nelson loves hosting big events and we do it well. Crusaders and Hurricanes fans can look forward to a brilliant weekend in sunny Nelson."
There will be a curtain raiser at 4.45pm between the 2014 Nelson club champions Waimea Old Boys and the Marlborough club champions Central. Lewis said the reason for staging this match prior to the Super Rugby game was to create a festival of rugby, and what better way to reward the two champions from last season than with a chance to play before their heroes at Trafalgar Park.
Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said the franchise was excited to be playing a Super Rugby match in Nelson for the first time since 2011. "This will be a highly anticipated game with the way the Hurricanes have been playing this season.
"It is the Crusaders' last home game of the regular season so we are hoping that supporters from across the region will take the opportunity of a long weekend in Nelson to support their team and turn Trafalgar Park red and black," Riach said.
- The Nelson Mail