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Whether it be the waterfront or Eden Park...
Sunday November 12, 2006
By Gregor Paul

Whether it be the waterfront or Eden Park, the International Rugby Board will tell New Zealand this week their showpiece stadium must be road-tested before the World Cup.

The IRB is understood to be excited by the waterfront proposal but has already made it clear the new stadium has to be built by either late 2010 or early 2011 so any teething troubles can be dealt with.

The game's governing body will not tolerate a scenario where the first match played in the new stadium is the opening game of the World Cup.

New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs, who flew to Dublin yesterday to brief Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) on the stadium plans, said: "We need to have the stadium finished either by the end of 2010 or early in 2011 - certainly in time so we can play some rugby in it before the World Cup," said Hobbs.

"I don't think there is any definite cut-off date we have to put in place but the more time there is to get things worked through, the better."

Hobbs is also expecting to learn in Dublin this week when exactly in 2011 the World Cup is going to be played. There are two proposed windows - June-July or October-November, with the NZRU preferring the latter.

That preference is not just because the weather will be milder, it is also partly driven by the fact the IRB are hoping to fix the World Cup in a permanent window from 2011.

If the tournament is locked into an October-November window, it will allow New Zealand to host lucrative in-bound tours during World Cup years. If the June-July window is chosen, the NZRU will be left trying to exact compensation out of the IRB every four years to make up for the income lost from in-bound tours.

Hosting three tests is worth $2 million to $4 million to the NZRU. That compensation will be dependent on each World Cup delivering enough excess profit to be re-allocated.

"We are hoping to find out about the date this week," said Hobbs. "It is on the agenda but it's possible they might need more time to think about it and carry out more research. It is an issue that will be voted on by the main council - the same people who voted to give us the World Cup."

Hobbs said the date of the 2011 event will not impact on when the main stadium would have to be completed. Regardless of the window, the NZRU want the stadium ready by early 2011 at the latest.

If the waterfront option does get the nod, it will have to adhere to the proposed timetable for construction. The Government has said it can't begin construction of the stadium until at least 50 per cent of the subterranean piling work is completed.

The stadium will take three years to build and Fletcher Construction has forecast the completion date for 50 per cent of the piling will be some time between May and December 2007.

If the piling work is completed towards the end of that predicted range, then the construction has no margin for delays if it is to be ready by the end of 2010.

These are the issues Hobbs is likely to be pressed on by RWCL which will also want to know what contingencies are in place.

While World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard was happy to suggest on Friday that "if you can't get unanimity in Auckland, you get Jade," the IRB might see it differently.

They might see it more along the lines that if you don't get unanimity in Auckland, you don't get the World Cup hosting rights.

Christchurch has infrastructure issues and the stadium revamp will require temporary seating, making it possible the IRB will not consider it the world class venue they had been promised in the original bid.

If the IRB harbour concerns about the validity of the contingency options, the pressure will mount on the Government to complete the waterfront in time.

If doubts creep into play, the IRB will have no choice but to consider shifting the tournament elsewhere.