Great game, despite some empty seats

Story by: Josh Reich - The Nelson Mail - Photo by: Marc Palmano - Shuttersport

It wasn't the sell-out crowd organisers had hoped for, but the thousands of fans that walked away from Trafalgar Park on Saturday night did so happy, if a little cold.

About 11,500 people watched as the Crusaders continued their remarkable season, beating a rugged Sharks outfit 36-8 in the Super Rugby playoff. The team is now making its way to South Africa, where it will play the Stormers in Cape Town next Sunday morning in the semifinals.

The match was the fourth Super Rugby match in Nelson this season, after the Canterbury earthquake put AMI Stadium out of commission.

The crowd for the playoff was the largest of the four, but short of organisers' hopes.

The western stands were full, as was most of the temporary seating on the eastern side, but the stand at the town end of the park had plenty of empty seats.

Tasman Rugby Union commercial and marketing manager Les Edwards said the 4700 unoccupied seats represented a lost opportunity, after the Crusaders board listened to the team and played within the franchise region.

"This match was the biggest rugby occasion likely to happen for the region outside the World Cup.

"To not have at least 15,000 in attendance was disappointing and may force the Crusaders to think twice about where to play their big end-of-season fixtures next year.

"In some way we let them down.

"Perhaps it was the horrible weather earlier in the week that caused people to make different arrangements. Maybe Nelson is not a mad rugby or sports town. Whatever the reason, it was disappointing not to put the `full house' sign up."

Mr Edwards said those who did turn up were in good form.

"The crowd was magnificent, very loud at times and certainly colourful.

"The new east stand and embankment did look a treat on television.

The new east stand brigs fans closer to the on-field action

"The new seating configuration was popular with most, although we did have our share of hiccups, which is to be expected when trialling 13,000 extra seats and a new ticketing system for the first time.

"Most people were very understanding and we learnt a lot for the hosting of our three Rugby World Cup [matches] later in the year."

Those at the ground enjoyed themselves, despite a temperature of about five degrees Celsius.

Jon Blaike travelled from Christchurch the day of the match, and had done the same when the Crusaders played the Highlanders. He was delighted with their effort. "The way they keep backing up is amazing."

Di Rogers was sitting in the new, temporary seating on the eastern side of Trafalgar Park and said the view was fantastic. "Pretty damn cold, though."

While the Sharks were a long way from home, they did have some support in the crowd, including Pieter van Rooyen, who travelled from Greymouth with his family for the match. He was from Natal but had lived in New Zealand for about 2 1/2 years and remained a Sharks fan. "You do start to support the local team a bit as well."