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