Saturday, 19 June 2010

Goodbye Carisbrook.

It was a night of nostalgia at Carisbrook, Dunedin as the All Blacks beat Wales 42 - 9. The finale for this gracious old ground was an aggressive, rugged and bruising game of rugby in the first half, with the All Blacks leading 15-9. But the All Blacks were too strong in the second half, and gave Carisbrook a send off she deserved..

Wales winger Leigh Halfpenny loses the ball as he is tackled by All Blacks first-five Daniel Carter in the last test match at Carisbrook. 

Carisbrook is my ground. I was born on a hill overlooking Carisbrook in Dunedin, and watched the All Blacks play the mighty 1956 Springboks when the late Ron Jarden scored an intercept try for the All Blacks to clinch a 10-6 win  in the first test of the tumultuous series of 1956.


It's just a rugby ground – bricks and mortar surrounding a rectangular piece of grass. Well past its best, too, rickety, rusty and ready to be put out to pasture in favour of a brand spanking new piece of modern technology.

SETTING SUN: The sun sets on Carisbrook during a 2008 Super 14 game between the Lions and the Highlanders.  My family lived for 43 years in a house on the skyline to the right of the tower in the top right corner of the photo.



I was there is 1959 when Otago beat the Lions 26-8 and some weeks later saw Don Clarke kick 18 points for a victory over the Lions and the Evening Star headline screamed: Clarke 18, Lions 17.

From Mum and Dad's bedroom window I could see Carisbrook, and if 1 walked 50 metres to Benfell's garage, I could watch a test match from there.

I remember the day in 1960 I played a match for Otago schoolboys against Southland, in front of my grandfather, and felt so proud.

I could run from my house down the hill to Carisbrook in less than 10 minutes. I met most of the visiting test rugby and cricket teams in the late 50s and 60's. Perhaps my fondest memory was in 1959 meeting that great Irish winger, Tony O'Reilly a few days before the first test at Carisbrook.

It's 102 years since the Anglo-Welsh played the first test at the ground and it's perhaps fitting that the Welsh - blood-brothers of New Zealand in rugby - should play the last.

But there's something about Carisbrook, the iconic international rugby ground situated in working class south Dunedin, that has always evoked a certain charm, a certain aura.

Whether it's been the heavy student presence on the sweeping terrace or the trademark warm southern charm, this is a ground that has usually produced a pretty special atmosphere and, for the most part, been somewhat of a fortress for the All Blacks over 102 years of tst rugby.

New Zealand's finest have played 36 tests there – not counting the unofficial international against Argentina in 1979 – and won 30 of them, with just the one draw, 9-9 against the British and Irish Lions back in 1950.

Two of the five defeats have come against the Lions (1930 and '71), while Australia (2001), South Africa ('08) and France ('09) have also blotted the All Black copybook at their southernmost test venue.

The first ever test was 1908's 32-5 victory over the touring Lions, while arguably the most famous was the 18-17 win over the Lions in 1959 where Don ‘The Boot' Clarke landed six penalty goals to send 41,500 spectators home in a state of delirium.

Carisbrook began its days as a cricket ground in the 1870s - indeed its name is derived from a local cricket club.

Floodlit since the 1990s, it can cater for both day and night fixtures. Known locally simply as "The Brook", it is also often known around the world by the name "The House of Pain", due to its solid reputation as a difficult venue for visiting teams.

Located at the foot of The Glen, a steep valley, the ground is flanked by the South Island Main Trunk Railway and the Hillside Railway Workshops, two miles southwest of Dunedin city centre in the suburb of Caversham. State Highway 1 also runs close to the northern perimeter of the ground.

Some grounds, during the height of summer, you would pray for a cooling breeze. Never at Carisbrook where, in all of its 130-odd year history, it's unlikely anyone ever basked. No test cricket could be found closer to the South Pole and some days Dunedin would do its best to bridge the meteorological gap.


Carisbrook was named after the estate of early colonial settler James Macandrew (itself named after a castle in the Isle of Wight). Developed during the 1870s, it was first used for international cricket in 1883, when Otago hosted a team from Tasmania. It has been hosting rugby union internationals since 1908 and full cricket internationals since 1955.
The greatest ocassions of all at Carisbrook have been the Otago-Southland fixtures. Soputhland currently hold the coveted Ranfurly Shield.

Peter Bush (79), the doyen of sports photographers in New Zealand, has photographed many tests at Carisbrook, after first starting as a photographer at The New Zealand Herald in 1948.  His memories of Carisbrook are all good, from the first test match against South Africa in 1956 to the freezing British Lions test in 1983.

"I remember Mark Irwin, the Otago prop, having to go off in 1956 because he had a broken collarbone or something. Those were the days when there were no replacements so he just stood on the sideline with his parka on. He wasn't retreating from the sideline. Those were great days for Otago rugby," Bush said.

The stadium is home to the Highlanders in the Super 14 and Otago in the Air New Zealand Cup. It is the former home of Otago cricket,which moved to the University Oval at Logan Park in the north of the city after the redevelopment in the early 2000s, and also of Otago United Football team in the New Zealand Football Championship, which moved to the lower-capacity Sunnyvale Park for the 2008–09 season.

But the curtain came down on this rickety old stadium, with tonight's test against Wales the final international to be played on its hallowed surface, with the new, roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium being built on prime Dunedin waterfront land, to assume responsibilities from next year's World Cup and beyond.

So what does it all mean for the All Blacks who have the honour of playing the country's final test on this ground? Not to mention the responsibility of ending a two-game losing streak – the Boks in '08 and France last year - and sending the grand old dame out in style?


If you listen to Wales' Kiwi coach Warren Gatland not that much. He wasn't too sure if the modern rugby player had any place for sentimentality in their professional ethos, and that they "didn't care what happened 50 or 100 years ago".

But speaking to the All Blacks in Dunedin this week as they prepared for this historic occasion, there was no doubting how much the Carisbrook factor was playing on their minds.

Here's what our All Blacks had to say about the honour of playing the final test on one of the great international grounds:

Dan Carter: "There's some real history behind Carisbrook. We haven't been too successful the last couple of games and we want to turn that round and win well for the people of Dunedin."

Israel Dagg: "It's a pretty cool ground, it's been around for a while and hopefilly we can send it off on a winning note."

Kieran Read: "It's something we really have to do right. There's a lot of tradition there, it's going to be a great atmosphere and hopefully we send it off in the right way."

Brad Thorn: "This is personal for me, probably a little bit emotional. This is where it all started for me, I've got a lot of family down here, and this is Carisbrook. It's what Dad used to talk about when I was a kid."

Conrad Smith: "It's pretty special, and I think everyone is aware of it. We went to the Gardies [pub] on Tuesday night, and the guys are aware of significant icons that are leaving fine cities round here."

The 1971 Lions playing at Carisbrook

Jimmy Cowan: "You just want to bless it on the right note. It's been disappointing the last two years when we haven't fronted for them. So the onus is on us to send it off the right way."

Richard Kahui: "It's special, it's been around forever and the All Blacks have always had a good record here bar the last two games. I played for the Highlanders here in 2006, and it became the first place I played pro rugby and was a launching pad to where I am now. I just hope we get the lively crowd you expect here for the last hurrah."

Richie McCaw: "I guess there are a few memories watching games while at school down here. It's always a wee bit sad when it's the last game somewhere, but that's the way it is and that new place will be pretty good too."

Graham Henry: "It's a great ground, marvellous surface, and there have been many fabulous games played there by both Otago and the All Blacks. We'd like to leave that ground with fond memories, and I'm sure the ground would like to close with fond memories."

Wayne Smith: "My most graphic memory was the Lions in '83 when it was either hailing or snowing, it was bloody cold, and we had a North-South match here that was the same. We've had some really good occasions here with Canterbury and of course the Crusaders in '99 winning the final down here. It's like an old gentleman of New Zealand rugby, isn't it?"

Victor Vito: "Any test you play at home is special, but especially at Carisbrook which is a fine historical place."

Warren Gatland (Wales coach and former All Black): "We're honoured to be part of history here. As a player I know how difficult it was to come here and get a performance when you were playing Otago. It's not the easiest place in the world to come and get a result."

 "The Scotsman's Grandstand"

The ground's current capacity is around 29,000, but has hosted crowds as high as 42,000 in the past. Until recent years, the sides of a major road overlooking the ground were known as the "Scotsman's Grandstand", from which a free view of the action could be easily obtained. At one time trains would slow to a crawl or stop on the track above the stadium allowing passengers on the train to watch an entire event; other fans would sit on the hill. This was until 1998 when development of a new stand and corporate boxes on that side of the ground blocked the view, rendering this tradition a thing of the past.

We'll remember Carisbrook particularly for the afternoon tests: the smoke from thousands of cigarettes drifting across the ground, the chants and the roar of the crowd, the heroes whose deeds on the green sward enraptured us in the winter months.

We'll never forget because, as long as the game is played in New Zealand, Carisbrook will be an integral part of the All Black test story. But I will remember Carisbrook for her diversity for I have seen the Indian Hockey team play here after their victory at the  Melbourne Olympics, great athletes such as Murray Halberg, Neville Scott, John Landy and Merv Lincoln run the 'Fesitval Mile', cricket greats such as Bert Sutcliffe, Ken Barrington, David Shepherd, John Reid and Glann Turner, Frank Cameron and Alec Moir play on her hallowed turf, and pipe bands, marching girls and acrobats giving displays.

When the last game of rugby finished tonight, pipe bands came on the ground as the All Blacks did a farewell lap. A helicopter landed on  Carisbrook ground as the 30,000 capacity crowd, many with tears in their eyes, farewelled the famous venue after the last rugby test was played there tonight after 102 years, a piece of the Carisbrook turf was collected by helicopter and taken away to the new $200 million stadium now under construction on Anzac Avenue and hopefully to be completed in time for the Rugby World Cup next year.


As the crowd cheered, the beer and whiskey flowed, and the pipe band played Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,


And never brought to mind

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne!

20 comments:

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
The Welsh played hard but just got a bit tired and over run in the second half.
Good report my friend, I think if we fail to remember and recognize the historical significance of these grounds the game loses a bit. Their are a lot of echoes of muddy cleats walking back to those changing rooms there, some in joyous victory, others trudging in defeat, but they all add to the lustre of the game and the aura of that old stadium. Good to read the current AB's recognizing that, and reading the comments of brad Thorn gives me chills, he is an old time player, hard as nails, and I love watching him play so the fact he was emotionally involved in that match gives me hope to counteract the modern professional non aware approach of Warren Gatland. Perhaps if he did incorporate more pride, tradition, and awareness of the path cut by those 50 or 100 years ago they would have had that little bit extra in those last 20 minutes. Good to see the awareness, or at least acknowledgement by the AB's of the road carved by those before them.
I'll bet there are a few post match tales you could write here as well!
Cheers,
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Yes Robb, I can hear the voices of all those great players in the dressing rooms under the main stand, and Charley Buckley the Otago team masseur revving the boys up.

It was a fitting end to Carisbrook's gift to sport in NZ, and globally.

A lot of memories for many people at that grand old ground. And who can forget Don Denis, who sold the best pies in town from his stalls around the ground. Gourley's Pies !

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Anonymous said...

Hey Bob,

We briefly rented in Caversham on a little block of land with a couple of paddocks when I was a kid. We moved when the motorway got put in, and the part of the paddocks were used for the project. You can still see the old greystone house on a little hill as you sweep above the Brook on the motorway.

Of course my history doesn't go back as far as yours ;-), but I remember an All Black, Scottish test in the late 80's/early 90's. I remember Kieran Crowley chipping and chasing for a good try.

Around the same time I remember an Otago game where a new cap enthralled the crowd with at least three amazing tries. Marc Ellis turned out to be a good larrikin amusing player, the kind professional rugby doesn't seem to produce anymore.

I am going to be sad to see Carisbrook go. History is worth something and it will all be lost. The new stadium won't be economic and the people of South Dunedin will be paying for it in their rates for the next generation or two....

Sorry to end on a somewhat sombre note, but thanks heaps for your blog!

take care

Jamie

Bob McKerrow said...

Thanks for sharing those wonderful memories Jamie.

I know the house and land you lived in. Sad that the Motorway took it away, but like the demise of "the Brook" we have to make way for progress, whatever that may mean.

Iremember the Sidney Holland Memorial Hall tucked down that way near the railway line. Is it still there ?

Thanks for sharing your memories.

Bob

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