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Official Review by Stephen Gillam, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Wellington Regional Stadium (a.k.a. Westpac Stadium) is home to several rugby squads as well as Wellington Phoenix FC of the A-League. In 2011, it also is the host for several matches for the Rugby World Cup. This is the setting for the review of this decade old multi-sport facility.
With Australia out for redemption after their shock loss in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, their match against the USA Eagles was always going to be worth watching.
For me, it was time to lose the sad excuse for a break-up beard, paint myself up, put on the $60 Tom Brady New England Patriots jersey I bought from some guy off the street earlier this year, and get to the game. I've been to a lot of games at the Wellington Regional Stadium, but how would it shape up for a Rugby World Cup event? What follows is my attempt to answer that question.
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Honestly, I stopped buying food at this ground long ago. The menu is nothing special, and the prices reflect why the free market needs competition.
For the 2011 Rugby World Cup, though, they've brought out a special menu. One that's been IRB-ratified, no doubt. Aside from a distinct lack of alcohol (which is now available in the Heineken tent closer to the gate: guess what they sell), nothing really changes. If you have $5 don't expect much - that will get you a punnet of hot chips, a hot dog/corn dog (whatever you call it wherever you're reading this), or a bottle from the Coca-Cola range.
If you're feeling upmarket, a cheeseburger will set you back $7.50, as will a fish and chips box (featuring a crumbed fish over hot chips). But make sure that you bring cash - there are no eftpos machines on the ground, the owners of the cash-out machines know this and charge accordingly. If you want cash for anything, there are a few ATMs from other banks within a block or two of the stadium.
But my advice is to not bother with food unless you have $10 to spare and you want something to do during the half time break. If you do, I wish I had your disposable income, congratulations.
This stadium (cutely called "The Cake Tin" for its physical resemblance to, well, a cake tin) was obviously built with cricket in mind. The fans are placed some distance way away from the game itself, which I feel detracts somewhat from the atmosphere despite still getting a nice view.
The crowd, made up largely of New Zealanders I suspect, was fairly flat for pretty much the entire second half and there wasn't much cheering or singing to be spoken of. In saying that, the pre-match and first half buzz was a real pleasure to be part of and Australia running away with the game is probably why it all dipped off near the end.
I got the impression that the game was treated as more of an event than an actual sports match. A lot of the fans were there to enjoy the match, but to also have a good time while doing so, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.
The stadium is placed in a very commercial part of town, and right by the city's transport hub. The Trax bar (so called because it's tucked in by the train station) is extremely close and a nice place, but seldom open beyond the early evening. Otherwise, there's The Occidental, a pub that takes a bit of locating but has a nice atmosphere and is good for catching later games on television.
Also in by the train station is Railway Metro New World, a supermarket that's often open late and can be a good venue to pick up drinks and snacks if you want to head home after the match but still don't want to turn in for the night just yet. Or if you feel like shelling out to a large corporation, there's a McDonald's close by.
So despite a fairly boring set of options, the stadium scored reasonably high here because of its vicinity to the city's night life. If you keep going out of the gate and walk down Waterloo Quay (the only street in Wellington with about four lanes) or Lambton Quay for about 15 minutes, you should find yourself on or near Courtenay Place. And as they say on MTV, this is where the magic happens.
This is where there are loads of night clubs (or discos), pubs, restaurants, fast food outlets, a sports bar and there's also places of less honourable intent if that's your thing (and I'm not here to judge). If you're staying in Wellington and want to enjoy the city after a night-time game, you can easily do that.
The 35,000 capacity was almost filled, with my guess being close to 30,000 fans turning up. Like I said, a lot of people were there simply because it was an event that New Zealand is unlikely to get again for a long time, and that was reflected tonight. There were a lot of costumes around, painted up faces and flags that had nothing to do with the United States or Australia.
Aside from a lot of boos directed towards Quade Cooper (and to be fair, it is by self proclamation that he's New Zealand's Public Enemy Number One), they were pretty well behaved from what I saw. Nothing particularly exciting happened, aside from one Mexican wave that made its way completely around the stadium about five or six times.
The fans I met were a nice lot that seemed fairly knowledgeable. I sat next to a guy from New York and we had a long talk at half time about the various styles of rugby teams use, the Sevens, and how the United States can make improved usage of their player pool. Another guy said to me: "You're a kiwi? Then I'll forgive the Brady jersey."
The tourists I spoke with seemed happy to have a lot of local support but it was clear to me that most Americans don't like Tom Brady; and the locals I spoke with seemed happy to adopt the Eagles as a team for the night.
Remember what I said about that transport hub? If you're staying in the Wellington city area, buses can drop you off across the road from the stadium, or if you're in the "Greater Wellington" area (as far as an hour north in Paraparaumu or Waikanae) then you can get off the train at Wellington Station and you're pretty much at the gate.
Parking in the stadium and the nearby streets is expensive and often very hard to find a place to park. I recommend either walking to the stadium or taking some form of public transport, both of which are easy to do in Wellington.
Foot traffic is all directed through one (admittedly very large) causeway and gate. Usually this isn't a problem but when the crowd amounts to at least 20,000 you should be prepared for some congestion and slow walking, particularly if you're in a large group.
I paid about $56 (New Zealand) for my ticket including handling, and while you'll find similar prices elsewhere in the world, it's almost three times the price of a normal sports match here. Where was I seated? Behind the posts.
I'm not complaining about my seat, but there was much better available (bearing the appropriate price tag, of course). For what I paid, I enjoyed my time there and the fact that it was for a quadrennial fixture made it easier to part with that amount of my children's inheritance.
There were heaps of trained volunteers around the ground, highly visible, friendly, well-informed and more than happy to help out with anything. Security was tight, particularly towards the end of the match (true story: I saw a military police officer patrolling the ground), but they weren't intrusive aside from the mandatory bag-checks at arrival (which you can't really argue with). Another guy next to me got ejected, but it was done with a simple "sir, could you come with me please?" before he simply never came back to his seat.
Aside from that, the stadium didn't really put a lot of effort into making the game enjoyable: that came from the nature of the event and from the fans themselves.
**Photo attributed to Hamedog
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