Dry weather, overuse and a lack of irrigation and maintenance by Auckland Council are all being blamed for the poor state of the fields at the Warkworth Showgrounds, which forced the cancellation of the much-anticipated Blues versus Hurricanes pre-season game.
The two Super Rugby sides were due to play in Warkworth on February 5 and Mahurangi Rugby Club had organised a ‘Footy Fest’ around the event. This included a sponsors’ lunch, junior matches, a kids zone and live music. As well as the Blues and the Canes line-up, 10 All Blacks were expected to attend.
However, Blues management pulled the plug on the event on January 20 citing the condition of the field as the reason.
Chief executive Andrew Hore said the risk of injury was too high with the game only two weeks before the start of the Super Rugby Pacific season.
“We checked the ground before Christmas but it has deteriorated in the hot summer conditions and there is too much risk for a professional Super Rugby match. The health and welfare of our players is absolutely paramount,” Mr Hore said.
Mahurangi Rugby Club chair Charmaine Gravatt says she was devastated when she heard the news.She says Council was made aware of the event last August and the club and Council had ‘touched base’ several times before Christmas.
“When we hosted a similar day in 2018, the field was in perfect condition – we didn’t think the fields would be an issue,” she says.
While the club leases the clubrooms, the upkeep of the fields is a Council responsibility.
Currently, all three rugby fields are sub-standard. There are patches of dust and ruts, and weeds growing where the grass should be.
Charmaine says when lockdown restrictions were eased, the fields were being used by a lot of groups that wouldn’t normally train there. This included crossfit classes and golfers.
“The club understands that it is a public field, but we were hosting an international event, so we feel Council should have taken the precaution of closing the fields, not to mention maintaining and irrigating the pitch.
“In a way I feel like I’ve let the community down,” she says. “Since Covid arrived, people have been doing it tough.
We thought we were giving them something to look forward to and it would have been a great day.
“A lot of time and effort was put in by volunteers, and the club will definitely be out of pocket.”
A similar day in 2018 attracted around 3000 spectators.
Council’s regional sports facilities manager, Scott Malcolm, apologised for the inconvenience caused by the state of the field.
“We will do all we can to get this asset back to its full potential as soon as possible and ensure it is ready for the start of the winter rugby season,” he says.
Mr Malcom says the deterioration was the result of a number of factors, including significantly reduced irrigation as result of drought mitigation measures, no rain and two days of unauthorised use on the field earlier this week.
“In regard to the irrigation restrictions that we have had in place, at the start of the year our supplier was approached by Watercare and asked to reduce our water use to help replenish the water levels in the Warkworth reservoir.
“As a result, the decision was made to cease irrigation at Shoesmith Reserve, and for fields two and three at the showgrounds. Irrigation for field one was reduced from four times a week to once a week.
“On January 24, we were given the go ahead to reintroduce irrigation on the fields at a reduced frequency, before returning to normal levels this weekend.”
Mr Malcom added that the normal maintenance schedule was to mow and line mark the ground once a week, and the fields were usually irrigated four times a week when there were no restrictions in place.
“Under normal circumstances, field one would have been suitable for this type of match. Unfortunately, the drought conditions have severely impacted the condition of the field.”
The Blues/Hurricanes game on February 5 has tentatively been shifted to Onewa Domain in Takapuna.