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NZRU calls for stadium rifts to heal
Saturday November 25, 2006
By Daniel Gilhooly

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) has called for divisions to be quickly healed before the floundering over a showpiece stadium for the 2011 World Cup becomes a serious problem.

NZRU chairman Hobbs, in Wales to watch the All Blacks play tomorrow morning (NZT) and to attend meetings of the International Rugby Board (IRB), cut a disappointed figure overnight upon hearing that no decision had been reached over whether a new $500 million-plus waterfront stadium or a $385 million revamp of Eden Park would be built for the tournament in less than five years.

Happy to largely observe the decision process until now, Hobbs spoke forcefully of the need to "ensure that our interests are protected" and hoped a final decision would follow soon after a Cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss the stadium stalemate.

"There is time but there is not time to dither," he said.

"For the sake of the tournament, for the soul and spirit of it at the moment, we do need to move on."

Auckland Regional Council yesterday unanimously supported a revamped Eden Park to host the tournament but that was less than a day after Auckland City Council had given majority support to a new waterfront stadium.

Hobbs spoke to Sports Minister Trevor Mallard late last night and was confident a decision would be made soon.

He also said there was no likelihood of another option being tabled other than Eden Park or the waterfront proposal favoured by the Government.

Hobbs had kept IRB officials informed of the latest issues.

"There's no risk of any surprise to them. They're fully supportive and very comfortable with where things are at," he said.

"It's disappointing but it's not embarrassing. We need to move on to the next phase and get on with it.

"One of the real issues for us throughout the whole exercise is time.

"We're very anxious to ensure that whether it was the waterfront or Eden Park, that it was built in time for the tournament in 2011. To be ready in 2012 would be embarrassing."

To have the waterfront stadium built in time for the tournament, Hobbs said all consents, approvals and access would be required by April of next year.

Piling would need to begin in May and half the new stadium's platform built by December.

There is slightly more leeway for the revamp of Eden Park, where building could start as late as September.

Hobbs will not publicly favour any option but did concede that the waterfront concept took the bigger blow yesterday.

"The waterfront is very difficult without the support of the Auckland Regional Council and more importantly, the Ports of Auckland," he said.

"Without their support, it makes the waterfront option problematic."

Hobbs reiterated how beneficial the Rugby World Cup would be to Auckland, New Zealand and the economy, meaning the "single biggest investment in sport, that I'm aware of, in New Zealand's history", would be well worth the cost.

There would be other issues arising in the leadup to 2011, as there was for all major sporting events around the world.

However, it was important to get decision-makers moving in the same direction and for the stadium issue to be resolved soon.

"We will need all our best people, best minds, focused on it to make sure that it's built on time and is something that we are all proud of," Hobbs said.

"I just hope that the whole country and in particular Auckland can see the bigger picture, understand what is at stake, understand how much benefit New Zealand and Auckland can gain from this event and really commit themselves to putting aside some of their personal issues and making this a truly world class event."