International Rugby ground focus: Eden Park

Eden Park
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 09: A general view of Eden Park before the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France at Eden Park on June 9, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

As one of the grandest ‘theatres of rugby union’ anywhere in the World, Eden Park has a history of hosting the biggest occasions.

Two Rugby World Cup final victories, multiple Super Rugby and national provincial Championships for Auckland, that have showcased some of the best in the game. Fantastic examples of the game, often the envy of the country …. if not, the rugby world.

Last Word on Rugby’s Premiership Grounds focus has looked at the UK domestic rugby stadiums and complexes of the sport. Following on our popular profiles of  Sixways, Franklin’s GardensKingsholm and The Rec grounds. Now LWOR steps foot onto the International field, leading up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Eden Park; a 100-year rugby history

In 1902, the rough paddock in Kingsland, Auckland was transformed into a Cricket ground. By 1914, Auckland Rugby leased the park, with the two sports co-existing to this day. From those early days, the brilliant and prolonged history of Eden Park was formed.

From that point on, rugby clubs and the province of Auckland were formed around the central location. The vision of the founders of Eden Park has been to allow fans and supporters to have a central hub to watch the game at. Central to Auckland, central to the success in growing New Zealand Rugby history, where Eden Park hosted its first International fixture in 1921 [against South Africa].

That formative match has gone on to see matches against the majority of all International nations. That is games played by the New Zealand All Blacks, the Auckland provincial team, as well as the Maori All Blacks, Black Ferns women’s team and the national rugby sevens and league sides.

One of the key grounds of New Zealand sport, Eden Park has hosted everything from the Empire Games, to hockey and football matches, to a visit by the Dhali Larma and the Jonah Lomu memorial service. It was a venue for sporting and social events, all the while holding rugby and cricket matches that more and more held the nation’s attention.

Eden Park memorable match highlights

1981 – All Blacks v Springboks

For all the sporting successes, one era will live forever in the memory of rugby fans. Looked to as a ‘battle of the Worlds best’ however, the announcement of the 1981 Springboks tour brought with it political protest and disgust of the South Africa policy of Apartheid.

When it came to the rugby, the venues became protest focal points – the midweek game against Waikato ended in a sit-in by protesters that saw the game canceled. The Test series was played under enormous security and much division, within society.

With the final test to be played at Eden Park, the pressure on the result was a ‘winner takes all’. The protesters outside fought with Police, and to top that off, a light airplane then began to buzz the stadium. Low-level approaches saw flyers dropped, before an aerial drop of ‘flour bombs’ ended with Gary Knight being struck by one. The game was close to being called off, but the officials persevered and in the end, a late kick earned New Zealand the win.

Note: as a consequence of the apparent endorsement by the New Zealand Rugby Union and other organizations, nations boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

2011 – New Zealand v France (RWC final)

If not seen as one of the seminal moments for the game in NZ rugby history. Hosting for the second time, Eden Park had undergone a mammoth reconstruction; still pillared as the ‘cheap option’ when Auckland could have built a greenfield Stadium near the important Waterfront.

Gladly for the old girl, the Park was a brilliant setting – how the team repaired a dodgy RWC recent history, to show determination and conviction, to defeat France by 9-8, in one of the more intense finals (of any rugby competition).

Future of Eden Park may see more change

This factor is not assured. With public sentiment high, a constant over the course of time, other factors may influence it’s short and long term future.

Some will fight to retain the location, the facilities and turf. History means it will always have a strong position. But some wish for modern facilities. They bemoan the concrete wasteland when the stadium is not full. That the audience engagement is low.

However, for all the modern deficiencies, it is at it’s best in those 80 minutes of action.

There are many, many more occasions where Eden Park has been the theater for sporting memories. The high scoring occasions, the 90-meter individual try by John Kirwan, the French ‘try from the end of the world’. Wins against the majority of nations, with the fewest losses of any other major sporting venue. The place where the biggest crowds join together, in supporting the national team.

That will continue, and while the success of the local rugby team may change, it is similar to that of others. From the UK Premiership, to Super Rugby or Major League Rugby, each stadium in every rugby town or village, creates the same sensation – one that is united in sport.

Eden Park may represent sporting history for one country. Though, for fans around the world, the name is associated with the All Blacks, with success and for many, a destination to visit when in New Zealand.

 

“Main photo credit”
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