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THE FORTRESS

3 June 2024
reuben thorne of the all blacks holds afoft the bledisloe cup
Reuben Thorne lifts the Bledisloe Cup, which remains in the All Blacks’ grasp, at Eden Park in 2003.

Campbell Burnes takes a stroll back through the last 30 years and, while the world is in a state of flux, one thing has not changed – the All Blacks do not lose at Eden Park.

Once the Garden of Eden…

It is now the Fortress of Eden, a rugby citadel that has not been successfully stormed by a visiting team against the All Blacks since 12 months before the game went pro – that is 1994, can you believe?

The largest crowd in New Zealand rugby history is the 61,240 who crammed Eden Park in 1956 for the fourth Test against the Springboks. I wonder if they counted those hanging out of the poplar trees. I was one of 61,079 there for the 2011 RWC final, a dramatic, spine-tingling event.

One may think the stadium is just bricks, mortar and stands looming high in the midst of a residential zone in Auckland. It was a swamp at the turn of the 19th century. But no one calls it a swamp in the manner of English fans affectionately calling Twickenham ‘The Cabbage Patch.’

Eden Park’s name carries weight globally. Franck Mesnel made a clothing brand out of it before copyright law was strongly enforced. All rugby fans know that three Rugby World Cup finals have been played there and that some of the finest moments in New Zealand sport have played out at the national stadium. There is a mystique about the place.

It is not the ideal rugby venue, as the fans are not close enough to the action as, say, Stade Mayol in Toulon, where the intimacy is palpable. I can, however, vouch for the media facilities, where the wifi works well and the view is superb.

But Eden Park’s imperfections rarely trouble the All Blacks. They find ways to win when they are not at their best and yet they often are at their best here.

They were not at their best in the early days, twice falling at Eden Park to the Springboks, 9-5 in the first Test at the ground in 1921 and then, famously, 17-6, conceding five tries to zip, to Danie Craven’s class of 1937.

Since then, the All Blacks have dropped just eight Tests there in the last 75 years (!). The 16-9 reverse to Australia in 1949 came with a virtual C team as the front-liners were busy losing in the Republic.

The 1959 Lions showcased their backline magic to edge the All Blacks 9-6 in the final Test. England stunned them in 1973 in an upset of seismic proportions and then came Greg Cornelsen’s four-try bonanza in the dead rubber Bledisloe Test of 1978.

Some naïve administrator then scheduled the French on Bastille Day in 1979. The tourists lit up Eden Park in glorious technicolour for a 24-19 victory for the ages.

Read the full story in our June issue - out now!

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