7 Sep 2018

Nelson to benefit from big test match

9:40 am on 7 September 2018

Nelson's investment gamble is looking set to pay off as the All Blacks and Pumas prepare for battle at the city's revamped Trafalgar Park.

Paul Matheson stands outside Trafalgar Park in Nelson.

Nelson City Council deputy mayor Paul Matheson stands outside Trafalgar Park. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The streets are swept, the shop windows cleaned and the welcome mat is out for thousands expected in town for tomorrow's match between the All Blacks and Argentina's Pumas.

It will be the first time the All Blacks have played a test match in the city of 50,000 people and home to the nation's oldest rugby club.

Organisers said the $1 million spent on the bid to get the game in Nelson looked like it would pay off, despite the reservations of some critics opposed to ratepayers funds being used in a portion of the bid.

Nelson Regional Development Agency helped drive the bid and the Nelson City Council contributed close to $300,000 through its events fund. It also received backing from the Tasman Rugby Union and a handful of private investors.

The council has also spent about $500,000 more to upgrade Trafalgar Park for tomorrow's Test over and above the millions it cost to bring it up to scratch for Rugby World Cup in 2011.

Temporary seating has increased capacity from 18,000 to the 21,000 needed for the Test match, with tickets to the sell-out game ranging from $70 to $250.

Nelson Regional Development Agency chief executive Mark Rawson

Nelson Regional Development Agency chief executive Mark Rawson Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Nelson's deputy mayor Paul Matheson said it would be the biggest event in the park's 130-year history.

"It looks like it will be about a $9 million return on investment - that's bigger than the Rugby World Cup event we had here," Mr Matheson said.

"The magnitude of something like this is quite huge on a place like Nelson."

Eyebrows were raised around the country when New Zealand Rugby announced Nelson as a venue for the All Blacks' home Test schedule.

Nelson Regional Development Agency chief executive Mark Rawson was confident it would deliver the promised return.

"We've got a 21,000-seat stadium with a significant amount of temporary stands but the ground looks absolutely amazing, and that creates a commercial footing that will enable the game to be commercially viable," Mr Rawson said.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster gave the venue his seal of approval after a training run on the park this week.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

"The surface looks outstanding, which is fantastic," Foster said.

"It's going to be an incredible occasion. It's a great spot to be in. You know, Tasman (Rugby Union) are going really good so rugby's top of mind and it's great to be here in that sort of environment."

All Blacks winger Ben Smith said the small-town experience had brought unexpected surprises.

"It's quite cool to come to a small town and see how much it means to the people, not that it doesn't happen anywhere else but I think that a small community, like in a place like Nelson, they just really absorb it," Smith said.

"You can notice going along the street, how pumped they are to have a Test match here."

Tighthead prop Owen Franks, who grew up in Motueka, was looking forward to playing a Test match in front of his nana.

"It's going to be awesome. I've got my nana and a few family friends, plus cousins and an uncle coming to the game, so yeah ... it's not often you get a chance to play close to your home town."

Trafalgar Park in Nelson following an upgrade.

Trafalgar Park in Nelson following an upgrade. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Mr Matheson said the ratepayer spend on supporting the event had not been without its critics.

But it was about more than a game.

"It's really important for Nelson to continue to put itself on the map and we can do this through spending a few dollars so we can step up in the game."

Organisers warn if ticket holders are not in town by 5pm for the 7.35pm kick-off, the final cheer might be all you get to hear.

A free bus service will be running to and from Nelson from Richmond.