By Linda Clarke
Rugby fans will have the chance to get up close to their Crusader and All Black heroes when the Crusaders play the Hurricanes in a Super Rugby pre-season game at the Ashburton Showgrounds on Saturday.
Children will be allowed onfield after the 4pm game for photos and autographs. Around 5000 people are expected to watch the game, which also aims to fundraise $10,000 for Mid Canterbury mental health agencies.
New Crusader Dallas McLeod, who grew up playing rugby in Methven, will be among the new Super Rugby players taking the field.
“It’s awesome to be taking a pre-season game to Mid Canterbury,” he said after training on Tuesday. “It’s a part of the Crusaders region I’m proud to represent. I played a lot of rugby down there growing up and I know the local community will really get behind us on Saturday.”
McLeod was a member of the New Zealand U20 side and debuted for Canterbury’s provincial rugby side last season. “So for me, the 2020 Super Rugby season is an awesome opportunity to build on that experience, learn as much as I can from the coaches and players in the Crusaders environment and continue to grow my own game. If I can do that, I’ll hopefully put myself in a position to take any opportunities that come my way throughout the season.
It was surreal joining a team he had always aspired to play for.
“I’m fortunate to have a chance to work alongside some of the most professional players in the game and I’ve already learnt a lot about my role in the squad.
McLeod said he was proud of his Methven roots and to be returning to play in front of a home crowd.
“It’s great if other young players growing up in Mid Canterbury can also see there’s a pathway to Super Rugby if they work hard.
He said the team, reigning Super Rugby champions, was looking forward to coming to Ashburton and putting pre-season training into practice. It was also a good opportunity to engage with communities and fans.
Mid Canterbury Rugby boss Ian Patterson said the game would be a great rugby occasion.
“It is great for the town to get a game of this level. The weather forecast is good and it should be a great game between two outstanding teams.”
He said the playing field had had some special treatment in the lead-up to the game, thanks to the combined efforts of the rugby union, Ashburton District Council’s parks team and the Ashburton A&P Association.
The group had six weeks to bring the playing surface up to spec after a horse event. “It was cored, aerated, top dressed and undersown. It was pretty intensive work.”
Spectators will be able to view the match from the grandstand, the embankment and hospitality tents to be set up around the field.
Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge said the club was thrilled to take part in the fundraiser for mental health.
“We’re honoured to be able to dig deep for these services and help them to implement such vital programmes and activities.”
Tickets are available from ticketrocket.co.nz – General admission for adults $25, children $15.