Rugby players from the Deep South have always been rugged men. Happy to train in sub-zero temperatures, through rain, sleet and ice, they are a tough breed. So is their rugby and so are their fans.
So if you’re in Dunedin during the rugby season – February to October – try and catch a game at the new Forsyth Barr Stadium in central Dunedin. This state of the art newly-built facility replaces the legendary Carisbrook stadium – known locally as the House of Pain – where local super rugby team, the Highlanders, have fought some epic battles with their rivals, especially the Canterbury Crusaders. These games stirred the hearts of all proud South Island rugby supporters as forwards and backs jostled and tackled their way round the field. Scrums were hard fought, lineouts heavily contested and tries loudly applauded, especially if it was the home team that got across the line. Legendary players like Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson and Tane Randall played through the heyday of the Highlanders success – those were the days.
But so much of the atmosphere of an Otago rugby game is supplied by its supporters; despite the change of venue this parochial spirit has not changed. The new Forsyth Barr Stadium is close to the centre of the city and Otago University, always a good source of ardent fans. And with it’s fully enclosing glass roof the new stadium is weather-tight so the icy winter temperatures and southern rain won’t be such an issue. The natural grass turf provides an authentic playing surface. If you’re travelling by Dunedin rental car, parking is no problem at the new stadium; and it’s just a 5 minute drive from the CBD and 40 minutes from Dunedin Airport.
If your timing is really good you may be in Dunedin when the All Blacks are playing. Forget the bias of the local fans, now you’ll see the passion of a nation as the AB’s take on a rival country. A favourite highlight is always the haka at the start of the match, where the All Blacks lay down a challenge to the opposing team with a stirring chant and much foot-stomping and eye rolling. And if you’re supporting the local team make sure you wear black.