WITH only a handful of matches at Eden Park before the Rugby World Cup start off, New Zealand Herald reporters Michael Dickison and Nicholas Jones attended Saturday night's Blues versus Chiefs game to give the recently revamped stadium a test drive
No signs at the departure point for the special buses to Eden Park from Albert St, but an Auckland Transport official quickly confirms a bus to Eden Park will arrive within 10 minutes.
Four minutes later the bus arrives and all of us depart in silence and darkness - it feels like a trip to some outlying industrial suburb, not local derby we're keen to see.
With free buses departing every 10 minutes for three hours before kick-off, it might have been cheaper for Auckland Transport to pay for taxis.
Dropped off on New North Rd near the Kingsland shops, and cheerfully told by another official how to walk the two minutes to Eden Park.
The procedure is as easy and efficient for the ride home.
Any excitement on the trains to Eden Park is soon overtaken by grumbles as the carriages stop and start, crawling between Britomart and Kingsland.
"Come on, man. This is killing me," says a Blues fan, sitting in a group of young men whose eyes are already flushed red and a little droopy.
"This is the slowest train ever."
The 28 minutes it takes to travel what would be a 4.5km walk is somewhat disappointing. It feels as bad as driving in congestion.
Four out of five platforms at Britomart have been dedicated to shuttling spectators to Eden Park. It is excessive on the day, but there is plenty of capacity - and several mostly empty trains.
The return trip is slightly quicker, stopping six times again but taking only 21 minutes.
Stadium facilities (9/10):
The line for ticket sales is not even one deep. After buying a $15 ticket to the east stand, enter through a line of seven gleaming new ticket scanners. Almost as many event staff hover around instructing: "Barcode facing up, barcode facing up".
It takes only 30 seconds to get through the gate at 6.55pm, 40 minutes before kick-off, including queuing.
Security staff and police in fluoro jackets are highly visible. The police are clearly carrying out drills for the Cup - systematically walking down aisles, presumably looking for bombs.
Come the RWC it might be reassuring, but tonight the crowd's size and temperament make it distracting - like an exam invigilator peering over your shoulder.
Food and beverages (8/10):
Customers can buy standard fare such as pies and hot chips, and each store even has a token display of fruit salad and slightly soggy looking sushi.
The gourmet beef burger ($7.50) is drippy on one side and dry everywhere else, but it isn't bad. Eager staff in blue polo shirts outnumber customers, and even at half-time there are no queues except at a solitary coffee stand.
It takes 10 minutes to reach three baristas toiling in black T-shirts - the only place where short sleeves are adequate.
They make a valiant effort to seemingly supply the whole shivering stadium with hot chocolate.
The drink is excellent, though the stand takes only cash and the game has resumed by the time it is served.
The crowd, stands and surroundings (3/10): Always going to be a struggle given the crowd's size and the bad weather.
A lively group of American college students, each with a letter spelling BLUES on bare midriffs, quickly attract the overzealous attention of a security guard.
They move to the bottom of the east stand - perhaps having read in an old Lonely Planet that this was where the terraces were located
By half-time they look slightly deflated and confused.
A few lonely cowbells sound - New Zealand's answer to the vuvuzela?
The new ground improvements look great, but the old west stand sticks out badly. Even as a cheap option, the blue seats could have been replaced with grey - after all, the stand will be empty for most games post-RWC.
Identical food and beverage stores and gleaming toilet blocks line the concourse underneath the east and southern stands.
The south stand seats on level six give a good view of all the field, and despite being so high up, they feel close to the action.
But the screen straight ahead is too small to read letters on it, particularly during pre-match promotions.
It certainly isn't big enough to have advertisements filling space along the bottom and "Canon" taking up a corner. "TRY" flashes up when the Blues score, followed by "our pie".
Entertainment mostly ivolves cheerleaders and sponsors' products being given away.
An announcer asks several kids their predictions for the score at half-time, and 40 or so fans around him make a spirited effort at creating some noise. Apparently, the Herald does its bit too to fill the time as players lumber around the field and kick some balls.
Several foam balls promising Herald prizes are tossed toward cheers.
We also hear about a 13-year-old romance.
And for that embarrassment the couple receive a $25 gift voucher.
The final prize is a plastic shoulder bag with "Milo" emblazoned on it.
Each scrummage break the announcer asks, "Where are all the Chiefs fans?", followed by, "Where are all the Blues fans?"
There's no need for variety - the crowd is happy to respond every time.
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