Where were the Cru­saders fans?

The Press - - Front Page - ROBERT VAN ROYEN

Cru­saders boss Hamish Ri­ach be­lieves the poor crowd at Sat­ur­day night’s home test is a sign fans are fed up with Christchurch’s AMI Sta­dium.

About 13,000 peo­ple – well short of the 21,600 the tem­po­rary sta­dium can ac­com­mo­date – rugged up in the cold to watch the Cru­saders beat the Chiefs 27-13 in their Su­per Rugby semi­fi­nal.

Ri­ach was ‘‘dis­ap­pointed and caught a lit­tle by sur­prise’’ by the num­ber of empty seats at the al­lKiwi semi­fi­nal, and be­lieves the past cou­ple of weeks has fur­ther rammed home the fact the city needs a multi-pur­pose in­door arena.

In atro­cious con­di­tions the pre­vi­ous week­end, about 10,000 turned up to watch the Cru­saders top­ple the High­landers on the same day a state of emer­gency was called in the city be­cause of flood­ing.

‘‘We’ve been talk­ing about it as a tem­po­rary sta­dium and it’s not Christchurch’s fu­ture so­lu­tion for ma­jor events, and the city needs to think about it, talk about it and re­solve the fu­ture,’’ Ri­ach said.

‘‘I think [Sat­ur­day night] was a re­ally clear sig­nal that the fans are say­ing that too. They’ve put up with that sta­dium for five years and they’ve been happy to do so . . . but we all thought it was for five years and then we’d have some­thing else.’’

The tem­po­rary sta­dium is held up by scaf­fold­ing and some fans have to con­tend with poles ob­struct­ing their view of the game. There is also no roof over the con­course and a crane is re­quired to hold up the big screen.

Af­ter the 2011 earth­quake knocked Lan­caster Park, which it­self was home to some lack­lus­tre play­off crowds in the past, out of ac­tion, Christchurch was slated to have a new sta­dium in time for this year’s Bri­tish and Irish Lions tour.

AMI Sta­dium was only de­signed to last un­til this year, yet the Christchurch City Coun­cil re­cently granted build­ing con­sent for $1 mil­lion of ad­di­tional work to ex­tend its life to 2022.

A pre-fea­si­bil­ity study for a pro­posed multi-pur­pose in­door venue, which could seat be­tween 25,000 and 35,000, in the cen­tral city is due to be com­pleted in Au­gust.

‘‘Well, that’s it. Yes it is,’’ Ri­ach said when asked if fans hav­ing seem­ingly had enough of the sta­dium was a con­cern go­ing for­ward.

‘‘Be­cause there is no magic wand here, there is no in­stant fix. There’s cer­tainly not a new mul­tipur­pose arena just around the cor­ner . . . so we’ve got to make the very most of that fa­cil­ity for a lit­tle while yet.’’

The Cru­saders have to pay the Chiefs a $106,000 ap­pear­ance fee and meet a third of their travel costs from Cape Town.

Ri­ach said the small crowd meant the fran­chise was ‘‘on the edge’’ of break­ing even af­ter the match, but ad­mit­ted the Chiefs were the pri­mary fi­nan­cial ben­e­fi­ciary.

As a re­sult of next week­end’s fi­nal in Jo­han­nes­burg, the Lions will be re­quired to pay the Cru­saders $132,000.

Con­sid­er­ing the Cru­saders sold out home games against the Hur­ri­canes and High­landers dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, Sat­ur­day’s no-show was seen as par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing.

Ri­ach said ticket sales were strong at the start of last week, but ground to a halt when bit­terly cold winds, rain and sleet pep­pered the city on Thurs­day and Fri­day.

‘‘I think we were get­ting a re­flec­tion on the ex­pe­ri­ence peo­ple had the week be­fore at the quar­ter­fi­nal,’’ he said. ‘‘Fans were just sim­ply not pre­pared to do that again, even though the fore­cast was pretty good. It just put peo­ple off.’’

Ri­ach stressed he wasn’t un­grate­ful for the sta­dium, which was banged up in 11 weeks and ul­ti­mately kept the fran­chise alive in Christchurch.

He con­ceded the fran­chise needed to have a good hard look at how they would en­cour­age fans to at­tend AMI Sta­dium in the com­ing years.

‘‘I do hope that once some de­ci­sions around the fu­ture are made that we can all see that there is an end in sight. You can of­ten put up with and en­joy and get on with some­thing if you know it’s com­ing to an end.

‘‘One of the frus­tra­tions at the mo­ment is there is not a lot of light at the end of a pretty long tun­nel.’’

PHO­TOS: PHO­TO­SPORT

Some stands were fuller than oth­ers at Christchurch’s AMI sta­dium on Sat­ur­day night when the Cru­saders beat the Chiefs 27-13.

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