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Friday, March 4, 2011

Chch still the top priority for RWC

Chch still the top priority for RWC

Last updated 12:30 05/03/2011
Supporting Christchurch is top priority but Nelson is well prepared for the Rugby World Cup and should make itself ready to host additional games if required, Nelson MP Nick Smith says.

All eyes were on Nelson last night as it faced a real test, hosting a Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Waratahs at short notice after last week's earthquake ruled out Christchurch as a venue for the game.

The Government is yet to decide whether Christchurch will be capable of staging seven Rugby World Cup games – five pool matches and two quarterfinals – in September.

Dr Smith spent two days in Christchurch this week and was back in Nelson last night attending what he described as a "moving" game of rugby for the crowd and players alike. Many Cantabrians have fled to Nelson since the earthquake.

Dr Smith applauded the Tasman Rugby Union for pulling together a major match under such a tight timeframe but said Nelson shouldn't be seeking to take Rugby World Cup matches off Christchurch.

"I think we need to be quite sensitive to Canterbury in their hour of need and it would feel opportunistic for us to be attempting to secure additional games in Nelson at Christchurch's expense.

"In the event that a decision is made that logistically it is not possible for them to host those games, then Nelson should make itself ready and available."

The Nelson team had done an "exceptional job" to date with its Rugby World Cup preparations and the region could potentially host additional pool matches, he said.

"The core issues for Rugby World Cup with the quarterfinals is stadium capacity and I have doubts we will be in the league of being able to provide the sort of capacity for those quarterfinal events."

Dr Smith said Christchurch's biggest hurdle was getting AMI Stadium grounds up to standard because they had been so badly damaged by liquefaction.

He expects grass would need to be grown further north during winter and trucked in.

"It's possible – logistically it's challenging."

Accommodation and continued aftershocks were other factors to consider, he said, noting that even after the earthquake, Christchurch could still accommodate far more people than Nelson.

Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks.

"It's an important decision that needs to be made in a considered way," Dr Smith said.

"While I'm happy for Nelson to be exploring what its capacity will be, my view is our first priority should be supporting Canterbury and making every endeavour possible to host the games in Christchurch."

A Rugby World Cup 2011 spokesman said it wouldn't make any comment ahead of the official decision. "It's just not right for us to speculate."

Acting Nelson Mayor Ali Boswijk said she was unaware of any discussions about Nelson picking up extra matches in the event that Christchurch isn't able to be a host.

"I don't know if Nelson would be the first place that they would look to."

All Nelson could do was wait for an announcement, she said.

Mrs Boswijk is confident the region is well prepared for the Rugby World Cup and said the traffic management plans devised by police had even been used as examples for other region.

"We're as on to it as we can be at this stage."

Last night's match was a good test of the ground and local support, she said. "It's exciting to have that level of sport in Nelson."

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