By ELISE VOLLWEILER
The Nelson Mail
Saturday, 26 January 2008
The game featured some of rugby's biggest names, but the atmosphere was refreshingly grass roots at Friday's Hurricanes vs Crusaders warm-up match.
Motueka's Sports Park hosted the preseason Super 14 game, and fans were full of compliments for the refurbished stadium.
"They've done a fantastic job," Nelson's Johnny Double said. "It's magical - look how close everyone is. We've got superstars here, and they're so close we could reach out and touch them."
Crusaders prop and ex-Golden Bay boy Wyatt Crockett said it was great returning to play in Motueka.
"Coming from a small place myself, I feel more at home here. It's good to get out there and see some of our supporters who don't see us that often."
The front row prop felt the supporters were just as passionate - and certainly as vocal - as those in the country's bigger centres. "Some of those line-out calls were pretty hard to hear," he laughed.
Sean Austin, commercial and marketing manager for the Tasman Rugby Union, said the crowd of about 10,500 was even better than they had hoped for.
"There weren't a lot of seats left in the house. It just goes to show what having top level rugby coming to the regions means to smaller communities." He said Motueka was moving forward as a town and hosting a rugby game between two high-profile teams was evidence of that.
Fans took advantage of their proximity to the sporting superstars, rushing on to the field after the game to gather their heroes' signatures. Richie McCaw's unintelligible scribble was so sought after he was eventually given a police escort through his sea of admirers and off the field.
This did not deter him from putting in an appearance at Motueka's Huia Rugby Club rooms later in the evening, where he and several other players, as well as coach Robbie Deans, spent about an hour chatting with a steady stream of grateful fans.
Match report :