Recently the Highlanders and the Crusaders drew 19-19 in their match on Fred Booth’s paddock in Waimumu, outside Gore, Southland.
The pre-season match was set up there as part of the Southern Field Days, a three-day rural fair, which includes a tractor pull and other competitions. The match was attended by some 6,700 people, a large number for such a remote place. It was a clear show of how rugby can be brought to people, though of course that is not needed so much in New Zealand as in Europe.
Before the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, the All Blacks Sevens trained at RC Castricum’s grounds, with thousands showing up to watch them train and play some practice matches. It was announced the other day that Castricum will host a match between the Dutch national team and the New Zealand Ambassadors, a team made up of former All Blacks and New Zealanders plying their trade in Europe on the 18th of June this year.
Mostly rural West Friesland is a rugby hotspot in the Netherlands. Within that peninsula north of Amsterdam there are five rugby clubs of some standing, RC Westfriesland in Hoorn, RC Waterland in Purmerend, RC Schagen, RC Alkmaar and the most prominent club there is RC Castricum. It is also home to one of the Dutch Rugby Academies, located in Alkmaar.
But it is here now that a second promotional event is being held that could provide a serious boost to rugby in the country and beyond it.
Perhaps the Dutch rugby guys took their lessons from the speed skating. In early 2014 a temporary oval was laid in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam for the Dutch All Round Championships and for the first time in years the stands for the races were packed.
That is what happened with the All Blacks Sevens training camp and it is what happened at Waimumu in New Zealand yesterday. People will come to see something if the event or the location merits it. And perhaps that is what needs to happen as well for European rugby to receive a boost, both in the Home Nations and on the continent. Perhaps it is time to find some places where pre-season matches can be organised, not just in the big stadiums of Europe, but in temporary stadiums or at small grounds.
Why? Because for many of us that is what rugby is still about. It is not about going to a big stadium, it is about that community, those traditions and spending time with your mates. And these sort of events and locations reflect that better than anything.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena