New Zealanders pack out Eden Park in biggest super rugby crowd for 15 years

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Roughly 43,000 New Zealanders who had been starved of live rugby for three months due to Covid-19 filled Auckland’s Eden Park on Sunday for a Super Rugby match, the largest crowd in 15 years. 

The Auckland-based Blues held on to beat the Wellington-based Hurricanes 30-20 in the Super Rugby Aotearoa game. 


Sunday’s match was another joyous celebration of the return of live rugby after the country declared itself coronavirus-free on Monday, following the recovery of the final known patient, while sports fans around the world looked on in envy. 

Sunday’s match was another joyous celebration of the return of live rugby after the country declared itself coronavirus-free on Monday, following the recovery of the final known patient

A general view during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Sunday. Roughly 43,000 New Zealanders who had been starved of live rugby for three months due to Covid-19 turned out for the match

A general view during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Sunday. Roughly 43,000 New Zealanders who had been starved of live rugby for three months due to Covid-19 turned out for the match 

Hurricanes' Reed Prinsep (2nd R) secures the high ball during the Super Rugby match between the Auckland Blues and Wellington Hurricanes

Hurricanes’ Reed Prinsep (2nd R) secures the high ball during the Super Rugby match between the Auckland Blues and Wellington Hurricanes

The final patient, a woman in her 50s, recorded no symptoms for 48 hours, before being announced as recovered at St Margaret’s Hospital and Rest Home in Auckland on Monday. 

Ardern said the sacrifices made by New Zealanders, including a drastic seven-week lockdown that helped curb infection rates, had been rewarded now that there were no active cases in the country.

The prime minister has been praised for her strict approach to handling the health crisis, locking down the country for four weeks from March 25. 

The drawcard for fans to the match on Sunday was not only the opportunity to attend live rugby again, without limitations on crowd size or requirements to social distance or wear masks. Many turned out to see the debut for the Blues of All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who previously played all of his 120 Super Rugby matches for the Hurricanes.

Barrett started at fullback on Sunday but spent some of his time at first receiver, doubling in that role with flyhalf Otere Black who helped the Blues win five of seven matches in the full Super Rugby tournament before the five-nation competition was abandoned because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Sunday’s match follows Saturday’s opening game in Dunedin between home team the Highlanders and the Hamilton-based Chiefs, which drew a capacity crowd of 22,000.

Fans during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

Fans during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

The Blues run out during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes

The Blues run out during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes

Fans watch during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes on Sunday

Fans watch during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes on Sunday 

Sam Nock of the Blues meets fans after the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

Sam Nock of the Blues meets fans after the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

That was the first major professional rugby match to be played in front of a crowd since the Covid-19 outbreak forced the suspension of most sports in mid-March. Sunday’s match went one step further and brought twice as many fans to the larger Eden Park, the biggest Super Rugby crowd at the central Auckland stadium since 2005 when Tana Umaga, now a Blues assistant coach, played his 100th match for the Hurricanes.

‘I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who came out. I know we’ve been through tough times and to have a crowd like this for a Super Rugby game is pretty special,’ Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said.

The Blues and Hurricanes have the best backlines among New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams who, in Super Rugby Aotearoa, meet each other home and away in a tournament stretched over five weeks. The tournament was devised to allow Super Rugby to return while border restrictions continue to make international travel impractical.

The crowd was treated to an outstanding match in which both teams demonstrated touch and skill; more than would have been expected after players have gone three months since their last game.

The first half was fast-paced and exciting, ending with the Blues leading by a point at 14-13.

The second half was less so but the Blues built a convincing lead with a try to back rower Dalton Papali’i and a series of penalties to Black who kept a flawless kicking record.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country had 'united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country had ‘united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus’

A summary of NZ's battle with COVID-19

A summary of NZ’s battle with COVID-19 

The Hurricanes were on the wrong end of a heavy penalty count as referees again took a strict line at breakdowns. There were more than 30 penalties in the match between the Highlanders and Chiefs and a high number again Sunday, making continuity difficult.

The Hurricanes repeatedly were penalized for offside play or for leaving their feet at breakdowns. With poor lineout execution that allowed the Blues to take charge of the match and move atop the Super Rugby Aotearoa table after the first round.

The Blues scored the first try of the match through winger Caleb Clark who stepped infield after a sharp break by Rieko Ioane.

Ngani Laumape of the Hurricanes is tackled during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes

Ngani Laumape of the Hurricanes is tackled during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes

The Blues regroup during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

The Blues regroup during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

Fans during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

Fans during the round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14

Round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14 in Auckland, New Zealand

Round 1 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park on June 14 in Auckland, New Zealand

The Hurricanes hit back with a try to All Blacks hooker Dane Coles who was found unmarked out wide and ran the ball in like a winger at the right corner.

Tries to T.J. Faiane for the Blues and winger Ben Lam for the Hurricanes left the game evenly poised at halftime.

Papali’i’s try from a Faiane through-kick split the teams in the second half and Black opened the gap with a series of penalties.

A try to Jamie Booth for the Hurricanes came too late to rescue a bonus point.



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