NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Forsyth Barr (Photosport)
Forsyth Barr (Photosport)

Super Rugby has graced 21 New Zealand stadiums over the past two decades -- and while some have undergone expensive face lifts, many have remained decrepit old venues from a bygone era, or torn down altogether and replaced.

Tony Wright ranks every New Zealand stadium that's ever hosted a Super Rugby match.

All stadium images sourced from Photosport unless stated otherwise.

1. Forsyth Barr Stadium - Capacity 30,748

Top spot has to go to this modern marvel, purpose-built to worship our national game in any Dunedin weather. Much maligned during its construction as a giant waste of ratepayers money, the $193 million price tag now seems almost cheap compared to what was achieved for almost twice that, spent on Eden Parks half-baked redevelopment for the 2011 World Cup.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

The roof is the only one of its kind in the world, and the atmosphere the place produces is right up there with the world's best. Any seat gives fans a close up view of the action and you can literally hear tackle collisions as if you're on the field with the players. Christchurch wants something similar to host the Crusaders while Aucklanders and Wellingtonians look upon Forsyth Barr with great envy, as they're stuck with their multi-purpose, soulless white elephants.

This is the stadium of the future, right now.

2. Carisbrook - Capacity 35,000

Hosted arguably the greatest Super Rugby final in 1999, the ‘House of Pain’ could produce a white-hot atmosphere on any wet and wild Dunedin night. With its hotchpotch of mismatched stands dating back to the 1950s, the Brooks greatest asset was its massive, standing only concrete terrace, where alcohol fuelled students created a wall of noise and vitriol to rival any rugby ground in the world.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Age finally caught up with the grand old lady at the end of last century, but Carisbrook will be always be fondly remembered.

3. FMG Waikato Stadium - Capacity 25,800

Once a tired old ground made up of wooden benches and concrete embankments, the Chiefs' main marae was redeveloped into one of the country's most modern stadia at the turn of the century.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

The old stand had its benches replaced with shiny red bucket seats, while a new main stand was built, and is perhaps the most beautiful in New Zealand. The inner city stadium has witnessed plenty of Super Rugby history, with the Chiefs lifting titles there in 2012 and 2013. Oh, and its picture perfect playing surface is constantly rated as one of the world’s best. Kia Kaha Hamilton!

4. Yarrow Stadium - Capacity 25,500

A home away from home for both the Hurricanes and the Chiefs down the years, the old 'Bull Ring' has been constantly upgraded to now rank among the country's very best. With the stunning backdrop of Mt Taranaki to call on, Yarrow provides great views of the action whether you're sipping merlot in one of its corporate boxes, or standing tall with a beer in hand in the redeveloped terraces.

A general view of Yarrow Stadium and Mt Taranaki. All Blacks versus France. Third test match of the Steinlager Series. Rugby Union. Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, New Zealand. Saturday 22 June 2013. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport.co.nz

A charming and aesthetically pleasing mix of the old and the new, Yarrow Stadium can rightly be described as the archetypal classic Kiwi rugby ground.

5. AMI Stadium - Capacity 18,000

A temporary stadium to host the Crusaders while fat men in suits decide how to pay for a shiny new covered ground, Christchurch's former Rugby League Park boasts an outstanding atmosphere for Super Rugby.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

With lighting towers rescued from Carisbrook, and slapped together covered stands that rival or beat most in the country for views and proximity to the action, AMI Stadium is the little gift that keeps giving for rugby fans in the garden city. It supposedly has a shelf life of another five years, but with the constant bickering over how, why, when and where a new stadium is built, it may have to last a little longer than that.

6. Athletic Park - Capacity 39,000

The original home of the Hurricanes was a monstrous rusting relic, a barely functioning museum piece where hardly anything had changed since the 1950s. But what the park had in its favour was an incredible atmosphere, something its shiny new replacement on Wellington's waterfront sadly lacks.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

(Archives New Zealand / Flickr)

With the architectural nightmare of the mighty Millard Stand looming over it, the park witnessed legendary fullback Christian Cullen at the peak of his powers in 1997. The Canes' run to the semifinals that year produced scintillating rugby, with massive crowds squeezing in to see the boys in yellow run riot. The Newtown monolith was torn down in 2000 and is now the site of a retirement complex.

7. Eden Park - Capacity 50,000

These days the home of Auckland rugby is really all about the All Blacks for one or two days of the year, with the Blues attracting sparse crowds with little atmosphere. That wasn't always the case, however, with sold-out games commonplace in the early days of Super Rugby as the likes of Lomu, Vidiri and the Brook brothers dazzled their way to titles in the first two years of the competition.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

While today's Eden Park is much changed from the concrete and wooden structures of two decades ago, it is arguably more plastic than fantastic, less raucous and more caustic. Maybe one day they'll even properly finish building the thing.

8. Lancaster Park - Capacity 38,628

The scene of the mighty Crusaders' finest hours, including the infamous 'fog final' in 2006, 'the Lanc' is now a derelict victim of the Christchurch earthquakes. Once a very basic stadium with old wooden stands and concrete embankment, it was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, eventually resembling an NFL stadium when completed in time for the 2011 World Cup.

General view of AMI Stadium during the Crusaders v Chiefs Super 14 rugby match at AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand. Saturday 14 February 2009. Photo: Chris Symes/PHOTOSPORT

Cantabrians hardly got the chance to enjoy it though, with the deadly 2011 quake rendering it all but useless. To be fair the stadium was far from perfect for rugby, with fans seated well back from the action as the venue was also used for cricket, while the massive Paul Kelly stand had very little covered seating. Not ideal when a bitterly cold Southerly ripped through the place -- which was often.

9. McLean Park - Capacity 19,700

Another of the Hurricanes' home away from homes, Napier's all-purpose ugly duckling has a character and atmosphere all of its own. Usually hosting just one Super Rugby match a year, the games are generally packed to the rafters with the locals revelling in a brief taste of top-flight footy.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Aesthetically a half-cricket, half-rugby ground, McLean park has undergone a few upgrades over the years, but still retains a 'this is how we watched rugby back in the 1980s' sort of vibe. Hopefully that's something it can keep as we jump further into the 21st century.

10. Toll Stadium - Capacity 30,000

After receiving a tasteful of upgrade ahead of the 2011 World Cup, Whangarei's old Okara Park is a delight for fans who turn up to watch the Blues whenever the boys from the big smoke pay a rare visit.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

With its stunning new main stand flanked by huge grass terraces, the ground can pack in big numbers, but sadly is often only a quarter full for a Super Rugby encounter. Maybe that will change if the Blues ever rediscover the form that saw them pack out the joint back in the late 90’s.

11. Alpine Energy Stadium - Capacity 12,000

A boutique inner-city ground similar to what you'd find in a small English city for football, Timaru's little gem has hosted many a Crusaders game over the years. In 2011, the stadium became the Crusaders de facto home after the February quake had rocked Lancaster Park off its foundations.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

With fans packed in close to the field, the place can produce a far better atmosphere than many of its big city contemporaries.

12. Queenstown Events Centre - Capacity 19,000

An occasional holiday home for the Highlanders, Queenstown’s cricket ground has arguably the greatest backdrop for a sports venue on the planet. Although fans are a bit far from the action, because the ground has no lights they can at least enjoy their rugby whilst bathed in some central Otago sunshine. 

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

13. ECOlight Stadium - Capacity 12,000

Largely unloved and decrepit now, the rustic home of Counties rugby was once a trendsetting young upstart.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Back in the late 90s, it became one of the first grounds in the country to host night time Super Rugby, with temporary lights enabling fans to watch favourite son Jonah Lomu and his Blues mates tear apart all and sundry. Lost a lot of its character with the sad passing of Poppy the goat. The Chiefs paid a visit to Pukekohe back in 2012, but haven't been sighted since.

14. QBE Stadium - Capacity 25,000

Originally a home ground for the Chiefs when North Harbour were part of the franchise, the stuttering Blues now grace its sub-standard playing surface at least once a year, and usually in front of a sparse crowd. Still only half completed with little covered seating the Albany ground has its fair share of critics, while its location has Aucklanders constantly moaning about what a major pain it is to get to.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Parking can also be a frustrating and lengthy nightmare. In its favour, the stadium's pies and hotdogs are some of the best in the country, Westpac Stadium caterers take note.

15. Rotorua International Stadium - Capacity 26,000

An occasional venue for the Chiefs, the ground has little character and produces a lukewarm atmosphere from its vanilla main stand, grassy banks and concrete terrace.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Fans have never really flocked in great numbers to see the two-time champions, and their last game there in 2015 drew just under 14,000 fans. Still, that's more than most Hurricanes games get at the Cake Tin.

16. Rugby Park Stadium - Capacity 18,000

The home of Invercargill rugby has hosted many a Highlanders fixture over the years, with visiting teams, and fans, usually freezing up on a wet and windy Southland evening. The ground itself underwent a major overhaul in 2002, with a new main stand replacing the old decrepit wooden one.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Astonishingly, the builders used the old stand’s foundations, so that the new stand sits in the exact same lopsided place as its predecessor, covering only three quarters of the field. What were they thinking?

17. Trafalgar Park - Capacity 18,000

The Crusaders have made the trip north to Nelson many times, but the city's rugby venue is hardly a welcoming holiday home. With its bizarre mish-mash of stands old and new and dim lighting towers, Trafalgar can provide a frustrating night out for fans.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Upgraded for the 2011 World Cup by simply erecting temporary uncovered seating, the stadium now rivals even Arena Manawatu as being the ugliest in the country. In its favour, fans are at least close to the action, but no doubt most spend their time there praying it doesn't rain.

18. Arena Manawatu - Capacity 25,000

The old Palmerston North Showgrounds hold the honour of hosting Super Rugby's first ever game between the Hurricanes and Blues back in 1996.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

That morsel of nostalgia aside, there's not too much to love about this old ground, unless you like your rugby played in an exposed wind tunnel with a speedway track keeping you far from the action.

19. Owen Delany Park - Capacity 20,000

Taupo's picturesque cricket ground occasionally hosted the Chiefs in the early years of Super Rugby, but it didn't leave a great impression.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

With its low, dim lighting towers, freezing cold grass banks and oval shape far from the touch line, fans were left scratching their heads and heading for the exits. Owen Delany Park is a dog of a rugby venue.

20. ASB Baypark Stadium - Capacity 19,800

Self-funded and built by motorsport enthusiast Bob Clarkson, this wooden cathedral to mud-covered speed has hosted a few Chiefs games since opening in 2001. The problem is that it's next to useless as a rugby venue.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

An unhappy accident, Chiefs bosses realized they could plonk a rugby field in the thing and sell a few tickets to Tauranga's cashed up locals, but fans are separated far from the action by a moat-like dirt track, and games there produce little atmosphere. Maybe one day Tauranga rugby fans will get the decent stadium they deserve.

21. Westpac Stadium - Capacity 34,500

Opened to much fanfare at the turn of the century, Wellingtonians soon realised they'd been sold a giant lemon that most now most loathe and avoid. With the country's greatest cricket venue just down the road in the Basin Reserve, the designers stupidly made the 'Cake Tin' a cricket venue as well, robbing it of the intimate atmosphere needed for rugby that its predecessor, Athletic Park, had in bucketloads.

NZ's 21 Super Rugby stadiums – from best to worst

Seated far from the action, fans literally need binoculars to get a decent view of it, while the swirling wind and annoying 'not quite covered' seating makes most nights there a miserable experience for Hurricanes fans. The sea of empty yellow seats at each game speaks volumes.

The opportunity to build an iconic rugby stadium was sorely missed here.

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