By Hannah Norton, Courtesy of The Northern Advocate
Ian "Kamo" Jones helped power the engine room of the All Black scrum 79 times - now he has lent his weight to a bid to bring rugby test matches to Northland.
The rugby stalwart is backing a Whangarei District Council proposal to get All Blacks and British and Irish Lions Series games to Toll Stadium in Whangarei.
The council will decide at a meeting tomorrow about submitting the bid to the New Zealand Rugby Union to host one or more of the seven tour matches of the 2017 British and Irish Lions Series, and one or more of the 13 All Blacks tests - including three against the Lions - across New Zealand in 2016 and 2017. Council staff believe the economic value of each game could be the same as the increase in Dunedin's GDP after the 2005 match - about $7.5 million.
Whangarei already has a track record of putting on high profile events such as during the Rugby World Cup and the recent Kiwis and Samoa rugby league test, Jones said. "They've proved to everyone they can host games of that calibre.
"The facilities up there are second-to-none. It's world class - there's no question about that.
"In terms of the playing field, it's exceptional. The surface is good, the lights are brilliant, and the facilities for the spectators are really good - it's of international standard. I am immensely proud to see how it's developed over the years.
"Northland has played a part in All Blacks history with a number of great players, it would be great recognition if they were granted an All Blacks match."
Jones remembers going to watch the North Auckland versus British and Irish Lions match in Whangarei as a teenager in 1983, and then playing in the 1993 match against the Lions as a 26-year-old. "I remember it being a really big deal. We had a big crowd [25,000]. It was a buzz - I remember that."
Venues and Events Whangarei manager John Lynch believes Whangarei has a good chance of securing the bid given the district's track record.
"We've got that experience and credibility in the marketplace now."
And securing it would have huge and far-reaching effects for Northland as a whole, including significant economic benefits, he said.
"British and Irish Lions tourists tend to come and spend a lot of money wherever they are staying."
Local people will be provided with top sporting entertainment and the games will put the region on the international stage.
"British and Irish Lions broadcast all around the world. It helps promote us as an international tourist destination."
The bid is due on Friday and requires information such as potential costs, ticketing, training sites, accommodation, as well as regional and district tourism, culture and history information - a document Mr Lynch estimates will be in excess of 100 pages.
The New Zealand Rugby Board will announce the final decision in April next year.
Recent British and Ireland Lions games in Northland:
May 22, 1993, V North Auckland at Okara Park, Whangarei. Lions won 30 - 17
June 25, 1983, V North Auckland at Okara Park, Lions won 21- 12