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Official Review by Jeff Cheshire, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
In 2011, the Otago rugby team moved into the new indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium, saying goodbye to its old home of Carisbrook after 130 years. With the move comes an entirely new experience. New traditions are being created as the team looks to make their new home a fortress just as Carisbrook came to be.
Otago has long been one of New Zealand’s proudest rugby provinces, with an illustrious history few teams can claim to have. They have rated amongst the top four or five teams in the country for the majority of their existence, often in the top two, as well as having claimed wins over the likes of South Africa, Australia, England and the British and Irish Lions.
The NPC, or ITM Cup as it is currently known, has become something of a development competition and now plays second fiddle to the more profitable Super 15. This means All Blacks are now rarely seen in the competition and many teams have struggled to make ends meet financially. In early 2012 the Otago Rugby Football Union was forced into liquidation after a couple of tough years in recent times, threatening the existence of the team.
This has forced the team to be rebuilt from the ground up and is currently a ghost of its former self.
Don’t let that deter you from checking out a home game though. The current team plays an exciting brand of rugby in a stadium that provides perfect conditions to do this. Although not quite the experience of a Super 15 game, you certainly won’t walk away disappointed after your experience.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
You can't complain about the quality of either the food or beverages with all food being prepared on site and a reasonable selection on offer. However, as is the case almost everywhere these days, the prices are rather exorbitant. Food ranges from $4.50 to $9 where the cheaper end of the scale will get you a box of chips or a hot dog, whilst the more expensive foods include a fish and chip meal or a cheeseburger.
For drinks, there are both non-alcoholic and alcoholic options. A cup of beer costs $7, the beer being Speights, locally brewed and sponsor of the Otago team for many years. Wine costs $9 and is the most expensive drink on the menu, whilst a range of non-alcoholic drinks are on the cheaper end of the scale.
No problems with lines, with all food being served reasonably quickly. However, there have been reports that there can be a bit of a wait for games with higher attendance.
Outside food can be brought in as long as it is not commercially produced, so feel free to bring any homemade food along to snack on.
Due to the smaller crowds, an Otago game doesn't boast the same atmosphere as a Highlanders game in the same stadium. That said, there is still a buzz surrounding the ground and the fantastic echo that comes with an indoor stadium makes a half-full stadium sound like a full one.
One of the great things about this stadium is that there are no real bad seats, as the stands are so steep and close to the field you will feel as though you are right next to the action no matter where you watch the game. However, the North Stand is probably the pick of the stands to watch from, rising in an almost vertical way that means even in the very back row you will still feel as though you are right there. If you are ok with heights it would be recommended to go as far up as possible in order to get the best view. From the top you can literally see into the contact situations and can spot things in open play that you wouldn't in most other stadiums. It certainly makes for a great watch, particularly for the experienced rugby-head.
Crowd interaction is fairly modest, with a PA announcer listing the teams before hand and letting the crowd know who scored points whenever a try is scored or kick is made. The mascot Razor the Razorback can usually be seen on the sidelines, often near the Otago bench in front of the South Stand, or at the bottom of the North Stand where the family section is located.
Music played tends to be whatever is mainstream, although do expect a rendition of Dennis Henderson's 'Southern Man', a song that became something of a theme song for Otago during the 1990's.
Dunedin is a great city and makes for a fantastic place to visit or live. The stadium itself is located down the north end of town, literally two minutes walk east of the University of Otago campus and less than ten minutes walk from the city centre. It is a safe environment and you can be assured you will be welcomed with open arms by the locals and also by the students who are world famous for their support of the local rugby teams.
There is plenty to do in Dunedin and one of the great things about the city is that everything is reasonably close. Definitely check out the various historic sites around town, many of which are steeped in history with things such as the Railway Station and the University clock tower being seen as icons of Dunedin.
If you have time you will also want to venture down the Otago Peninsula, a 10 minute drive from town. This holds many of Dunedin's great tourist attractions, including Larnach Castle and the Royal Albatross Colony. It has many times been referred to as the 'eighth wonder of the world' and is worth having a look at.
There are plenty of restaurants in town ranging from your cheap fast-food joints to expensive gourmet eateries. I would recommend the Great Taste located in St Andrew Street, which offers a superb buffet for a very reasonable price, the exact price will vary depending on the day of the week and the time of day. Velvet Burger is also worth a try, located on George Street they serve possibly the best quality burgers in Dunedin, although they do tend be expensive.
If you are in the mood to head to town to celebrate after the game town is only a short walk away with plenty of bars and clubs to make for an enjoyable night. Monkey Bar is a favourite of the students and is certainly one worth checking out if you are looking for a good night out.
Otago games no longer draw the big crowds they once did. Much of which can be attributed to the increasing dominance of the Super 15. However, the fans that do come will make plenty of noise and will still provide plenty of support for Otago. They are definitely a knowledgeable rugby crowd, as every rugby crowd in New Zealand tends to be, but it would be fair to say they will let the referee know if a decision goes against the home team.
Expect an improvement in this section as the team continues to rebuild and regain its former glory. They say no one does rugby like Dunedin, and whilst the Otago crowd attendances are nowhere near where they were a decade ago, a winning team would go a long way to filling up the stadium. And they are on the right track to doing this. In two or three years' time an Otago rugby game may very well prove to be the hottest ticket in town once more.
The quality of access is perhaps the most impressive thing about this stadium. Located fairly close to town, there is no need to arrange transport if you are staying or living in one of the many motels or flats around this area of the city.
However, if you are coming from a little further out of the way there are plenty of parking options. The official car park is generally open and costs $5 whilst there are also a variety of unofficial car parks along the way which range in price from $5-$10. There are plenty of parks in the surrounding streets though and free parks can be found if you are prepared to walk an extra two to five minutes.
Getting into the stadium is a fast, easy process, although if you have a bag you will be required to go through a baggage search before entering. Once inside it will take only a matter of seconds to find a seat. Handicap accessibility is just as easy, with wide ramps at each gate and specially allocated areas to watch the game right next to the action on the North side of the ground.
There are plenty of restrooms and lines generally aren't a problem here although they do tend to get busier at halftime as can be expected.
Leaving the stadium is a fast process too, with a fast moving crowd and plenty of gates to exit through.
Tickets are relatively cheap and make for a good return on investment. Season tickets can be bought for $80 for adult, $50 for students, $20 for children or $160 for a family pass which includes two adults and two children. Single match tickets cost $20 for adults, $12.50 for students and $5 for children. For this you get a great showing of rugby and get to enjoy the experience of a great stadium. The only blight on this category would be the food, which as is the case with most stadium food is well overpriced.
The obvious extra that adds to this stadium is the roof, a bonus particularly given Dunedin can be known to have its fair share of rain through the winter. With a roof though you can be assured you will remain dry throughout the entirety of the game.
The other benefit that comes from having a roof and nearly completely enclosed stadium is that it makes for perfect conditions for rugby. No wind or rain and a dry ball and playing surface. This encourages both Otago and visiting teams alike to play an expansive game that produces some great rugby and spectacular tries. It will be at a high quality as well, as ball handling becomes that much easier. This always makes for a more enjoyable experience.
There is also plenty of friendly staff that will help you should you need to find something, whilst the security will ensure nothing gets out of hand in the crowd.
**Photo attributed to Mattinbgn of Wikipedia.
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