Super Rugby Pacific: Why is it so difficult to fill stadiums in New Zealand?

Richard Knowler is a sportswriter at Stuff

OPINION: Where will most of the Super Rugby Pacific fans be this weekend?

Probably at home or in the pub, watching the game on a screen while they put a bag over their nose and discuss world affairs. Rugby, quite possibly, will also occupy a section of those conversations for the right and wrong reasons.

The talk, perhaps, will also focus on why they haven’t bothered to walk to their local stadium.

Highlanders

Highlanders No 10 Mitch Hunt says Australian teams are playing with something to prove in Super Rugby Pacific.

This topic is not new. However, it seems that no one is close to solving the mystery of how to get more fans to attend games.

Those bold enough to launch their own informal poll on the subject may find that officials are the first to take the blame. However, the people with the whistles are not the ones who put together a complicated law book that few people, and many players, fully understand.

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* Super Rugby: Dane Coles calls on Hurricanes to fill defensive gaps, welcomes Owen Franks

Is it any wonder, then, that a number of games have been as pretty as a broken bottle in a sewer?

Several other old chestnuts are likely to turn up during an investigation into low attendance: injury stoppages, scrum resets, TMOs repeatedly hitting the rewind button, high food and drink prices, and loud music are popular targets.

Sometimes, when the complaints are loudest, it seems that no one is happy.

Super Rugby franchises are not stupid. They hear all this and more. The same goes for New Zealand rugby.

The lack of ticket sales does not only affect the balance. It’s also a terrible look, when so many seats are empty.

However, the product is not attracting the crowd.

Do the players have a role to play in this? Yes.

However, with their guaranteed salaries, thanks to the group of players; there’s no chance of getting your pocketbook beaten for producing shoddy entertainment.

We all know this: the consumer has every right to decide how they will spend their discretionary dollars. How many will be exchanged for a seat at rugby this weekend?

The Waratahs celebrate their 24-21 victory over the Crusaders at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney last weekend.

Jeremy Ng/Getty Images

The Waratahs celebrate their 24-21 victory over the Crusaders at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney last weekend.

1. Maybe the help will come from the Australians

Fair game for them. When the Waratahs and Brumbies defeated the Crusaders and Hurricanes last weekend, they defied predictions that the Kiwis would come into their back gardens and tickle their bellies before kicking them out the back door.

Not convinced it wasn’t just a glitch? That is understandable. It’s up to the Ockers to prove a point, again.

The Highlanders-Reds clash, and the Chiefs-Brumbies game, are shaping up to be the most intriguing matches of the round.

The Chiefs' Brodie Retallick receives medical attention during the game against the Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato on March 26.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The Chiefs’ Brodie Retallick receives medical attention during the game against the Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato on March 26.

2. One more week until Brodie Retallick returns from a broken thumb

The All Blacks’ most recent appearance of the lock coincided with the Chiefs’ 34-19 loss to the Crusaders on March 26.

Scheduled to return next weekend when the Chiefs take on the Rebels in Melbourne, Retallick’s vast knowledge will be welcomed by coach Clayton McMillan as they look at their run to the play-offs.

As did the arrival of Captain Sam Cane, back from paternity leave, in Hamilton on Saturday night. His calm demeanor, especially when Reds running back Tate McDermott kept babbling in the referee’s ear, was lost in Brisbane last weekend.

Former All Blacks and Crusaders prop Owen Franks has been named to the Hurricanes' bench.

Hagen-Hopkins/Getty Images

Former All Blacks and Crusaders prop Owen Franks has been named to the Hurricanes’ bench.

3 Coles and Franks: The Old Firm Reunites

When Owen Franks left New Zealand for England at the end of 2019, the possibility of him joining Dane Coles in the Hurricanes seemed about as likely as a collection of dairy farmers rushing to the local saloon to host a Green Party conference.

However, check this out. Forwards Franks and Coles, who last played together when the All Blacks lost to the Wallabies in Perth in 2019, have been named in the Hurricanes’ reserves for the game against Fijian Drua on Sunday.

Coles will make his first start of the year after recovering from a hamstring injury, and Franks finally repaired a torn Achilles tendon. Coles loves to bark in the park. Former crusader Franks is the complete opposite.

Between them, they have played 188 tests. They are both more than honest traders. They are everything the game needs. They might even have bums in the seats. Welcome back.

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