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Old girl's facelift does the trick
The Dominion Post
Tuesday, 6 March 2007

It will be built, and they will come. Jock Hobbs is not quite Kevin Costner and Eden Park is not an Iowa corn field, but Hobbs' field of dreams does appear to be on track at long last.

After some heated, and at times absurd, debate about whether Eden Park should be upgraded or a new stadium built on Auckland's waterfront, the old girl's $180 million facelift has been approved.

How it's paid for, however, is another issue, but for now New Zealanders can rest easy in their beds knowing the 2011 World Cup will be held in this country.

That's worth stating because there was a moment during the IRB's World Cup Ltd press conference in Auckland yesterday when an Australian voice rang out. "Are there," he asked IRB and Rugby World Cup Ltd chairman Syd Millar, "any contingency plans to hold the final outside New Zealand should Eden Park not be up to scratch?"

Thoughts of the 2003 clean stadium debacle came flooding back, before Millar assured the John O'Neill flunkey that the IRB was confident Eden Park would be ready 18 months before kick off.

He also said the refurbishment plans, which include the use of up to 20,000 temporary seats, were better than what the New Zealand Rugby Union had tendered on.

Hobbs, the NZRU's cool and calm chairman, would be murder to play poker against, but there was a distinct look of relief on his face when he touched Millar's shoulder and said his comments were reassuring.

Hobbs has been a steady hand at the NZRU since he came to power in the wake of the 2003 sub-hosting disaster, with the bid for the 2011 tournament masterfully pitched and organised.

He also sensibly stayed clear of the stadium debate, allowing the many politicians and wheelbarrow pushers to pursue their own agendas.

A new waterfront stadium would have been great, especially as the government was going to pay for it, but a refurbished Eden Park, which will become the first stadium to host two World Cup finals, will be just as good.

Hobbs has also stayed out of the debate over who will pay for the upgrade, with the bill certain to be hotly debated behind the closed doors of cabinet and various Auckland local bodies.

Yesterday the former All Blacks flanker managed a nifty sidestep when quizzed on the funding issue, saying only that it was up to the government to resolve.

The NZRU will contribute $10 million toward the costs, but the IRB, which expects to make $235 million from this year's event in France, will also keep its money in its pockets. Those funds were for the development of the game, said Millar, who also ticked off the New Zealand media for being too critical of what the IRB is doing to develop rugby globally.

Hobbs also dipped briefly into impassioned speech modewhen he said the World Cup would attract huge interest and tourism dollars for Auckland and New Zealand.

Aucklanders, Hobbs said, should stop talking about the costs and start thinking about investment. Those visitors (and 79,000 turned up in Australia in 2003) will have to be accommodated and moved around the country, particularly in Auckland, where "grid" has been put into "locked".

Hobbs said such issues were being worked on. But it was small potatoes on a day when it was reconfirmed the 2011 World Cup would be held in New Zealand with the final at a tarted up Eden Park.