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Where are the Lions fans?

By Jake Beleski

[email protected]

If you were expecting to see a travelling red army invading Wairarapa before tonight’s match between the Hurricanes and British and Irish Lions in Wellington, you may be disappointed.

Give it a few days, however, and it could be a different story.

With the second test being played at Westpac Stadium this Saturday, touring fans are expected to arrive in full force later in the week.

There has been the odd sighting of members of rugby’s barmy army trickling into the region so far, but the expected flood of visitors is yet to eventuate.

Accommodation providers across the region were unsure just how many would eventually arrive, and Wairarapa Racing Club secretary Matthew Sherry said the Tauherenikau Racecourse had prepared for every eventuality.

“To put it simply, we have no idea.

“We might have five turn up, we might have 50, or we might have 100 — we just don’t know.”

The whole racecourse had been opened up and supporters were being asked to park on the tar seal.

He said there was no guide whatsoever about what to expect, and to guess would be “stabbing in the dark”.

“To be honest I didn’t expect anyone [yesterday] — I think they’re sort of meandering down from Auckland.

“They may get here [yesterday] afternoon because they might want to settle in before they head over the hill to the game, but we just don’t know.”

Mr Sherry expected things to get busier closer to the second test, but said discussing how busy it would get at this stage was “the $64m question”.

Lisa Cornelissen, of Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park, said there had been a “trickle” of Lions’ fans arriving in South Wairarapa, but things were going to go up a notch in the coming days.

“We’ve got a few staying with us and taking a shuttle to the match [today].

“From Wednesday through to Sunday we are absolutely chocker — there will be a lot of caravans around during that time.”

Marie King, owner of Featherston Motels and Camping, said they had a couple of Lions’ supporters booked in for last night and tonight, but she was unsure whether there would be more coming through later in the week.

At the Greytown Hotel they have been busy for all the tour games so far, but co-owner Ursula Murphy said to this point it had been mainly locals.

“Our accommodation has been booked out though, for the nights they’re playing in Wellington.

“I presume it’s them (Lions supporters) for it to be booked out on a Tuesday at this time of year.”

Destination Wairarapa general manager, David Hancock, said they were prepared for things to “ramp up” closer to the test.

“The majority of the travellers have tickets to the series of tests, so they will have been to the Saturday test in Auckland and will be making their way down to Wairarapa and Wellington for the next test in Wellington.

“Then there is a whole week to return to Auckland for the third test, so we can expect them to remain with us for a couple of days after the Saturday test in Wellington.”

The trend that had been seen and heard from other regions was that travellers were booking later, but that wasn’t a concern, he said.

“We have capacity in Wairarapa for any number of travellers that arrive all at once.

“The ‘Plenty to do on 2’ marketing campaign into Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington and other surrounding regions has been exceptional and we’re delighted with the reach and engagement the campaign has achieved to date.”

Fans wanting to watch tonight’s match, and the test on Saturday, can do so on the big screen at Trust House Recreation Centre.

Entry is by ticket only, and tickets are available on a first come first served basis from Masterton District Council, Masterton District Library, Connecting Communities Wairarapa, Te Awhina Cameron Community House and Trust House Recreation Centre.

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