Super Rugby Pacific: Stadium debacle in Christchurch no handbrake for Crusaders

Christchurch's Orangetheory Stadium was built after the 2011 earthquakes forced Lancaster Park to be abandoned.  Today, 11 years later, city taxpayers are still waiting for work to begin on a new site.

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Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium was built after the 2011 earthquakes forced Lancaster Park to be abandoned. Today, 11 years later, city taxpayers are still waiting for work to begin on a new site.

Richard Knowler is a senior sports reporter for Stuff

OPINION: When the Crusaders leave Canberra’s GIO Stadium on Friday night, they may feel a sense of regret.

The reaction might have nothing to do with the outcome of their Super Rugby Pacific match against the Brumbies, but everything to do with their home ground, known as Orangetheory Stadium, in Christchurch.

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The Ground We Won is a documentary about rural Kiwi rugby.

Since arriving in Australia last month, the Crusaders have played venues in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.

All of them, probably, have their quirks – good and bad. None more so than the famous Leichhardt Oval in Sydney, which is known in these parts as the home base of the Wests Tigers rugby league team.

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Now try to compare these pitches to Christchurch Stadium, which was built as a temporary measure after the great earthquake of 2011. The fact is: you can’t.

Because the arena the Crusaders have to perform in and what their fans have to put up with is not fit for the 21st century.

The Crusaders were forced to play in a stadium

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The Crusaders have been forced to play in a “temporary” stadium in Christchurch since earthquakes in 2011 damaged Lancaster Park beyond repair.

When the earthquake destroyed Lancaster Park, the town’s taxpayers were grateful for the construction of the quick-fix stadium in Addington, as it meant their flagship rugby team had a place to play.

No one cared that player facilities looked like shipping containers, or that fans had to squeeze into uncomfortable seats and use modest restrooms.

Now? Well, that’s more than ridiculous. It’s hard to believe that work on the new 30,000 seater stadium in the city center hasn’t started yet.

Now wait for this. You don’t laugh unless you have a sadistic side. Councilors in Christchurch decide to cut the budget or reduce the number of seats, after learning that the project is over budget by at least $50 million.

Things don’t happen in a rush in the Garden City. Of the 23 Crusaders players named to face the Brumbies, only 33-year-old Sam Whitelock knows what it was like to play at Lancaster Park.

The others earned their stripes in a dated place that is now more hated than loved.

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Blues prop Alex Hodgman last month.

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Crusaders captain Scott Barrett was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Blues prop Alex Hodgman last month.

1 What did Crusaders captain Scott Barrett learn after serving his suspension for a high tackle on Blues prop Alex Hodgman on April 15?

We probably won’t know from Barrett’s performance against the Brumbies as he’s unlikely to drop in this game.

It’s what happens in the future that counts. It’s hard to escape scrutiny if you’ve picked up two red cards since 2019, and many people – referees included – often remember bad shots.

Barrett’s priority will be to ensure the Crusaders’ winning streak against the resurgent Brumbies, who have beaten the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders in recent weeks, continues.

The Crusaders haven’t lost to the Brumbies since 2009.

Sam Gilbert was preferred to start at No. 10 for the Highlanders ahead of Mitch Hunt and Marty Banks.

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Sam Gilbert was preferred to start at No. 10 for the Highlanders ahead of Mitch Hunt and Marty Banks.

2 Bold or crazy?

Highlanders manager Tony Brown’s decision to start Sam Gilbert in the first five against Force in Dunedin evokes memories of when Jordie Barrett wore the All Blacks’ No.10 shirt against Namibia during the the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

This mission, no doubt, was much easier for Barrett. Although the All Blacks fought their way to a 71-9 win over Namibia in Tokyo, Barrett was still good enough.

But it was coach Sir Steve Hansen who stole the show. The All Blacks were only 24-9 up at half-time, so Hansen let it go. Or as replacement hooker Dane Coles put it: “It was kinda old school…damn good.”

Jordie Barrett was rested last week under the All Blacks rest policy.  He will return for the Hurricanes at No. 12 this week.

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Jordie Barrett was rested last week under the All Blacks rest policy. He will return for the Hurricanes at No. 12 this week.

3 Return to No. 12 for Barrett

Josh Moorby’s triple try in the win over Fijian Drua last weekend keeps him at the back for the Hurricanes against the Waratahs.

It means Barrett, who was rested last week under All Blacks rotation protocols, is back in midfield alongside Bailyn Sullivan. Ardie Savea, who was also rested, assumes the captaincy of TJ Perenara.

This week, it’s his turn to put his vast array of skills on the ice for the AB cause.

The Waratah, in all likelihood, won’t complain.

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