International rugby-deprived Christchurch will host the All Blacks this year, in a feelgood “game of three halves” against Canterbury and Otago.
After New Zealand Rugby dished out the bad news late last year that rugby fans in Christchurch wouldn’t see the All Blacks in a test there until 2020, or until the city’s stadium woes were sorted, it was confirmed on Tuesday the All Blacks will play there in August.
However, Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said that while the match was “potentially very mouth-watering”, it was not comparable to a test match.”They’re not equal substitutes are they? The test matches are international rugby games and pinnacle events in our sport.”
Canterbury Rugby announced the match on Tuesday and also confirmed the Crusaders would host the French Barbarians XV on June 15 at AMI Stadium.
The All Blacks match is being played on August 10 during Super Rugby’s international break, in a format of three 40-minute games with each side playing the others once.
Riach said there was a commercial risk in hosting the matches as there was no guarantee of interest from the general public, but he hoped they would soften the blow for rugby fans in Christchurch who will miss out on a test match for at least two seasons.
“[It will] hopefully they go some way in relieving the disappointment around missing out on the international test match.
“We think it is a wonderful addition to add to the rugby calendar. Having an international side playing in Christchurch against the Crusaders should have an appeal and if we get 7000-10,000 people there then we will start to do okay out of it.”
That’s another great addition to the rugby calendar to have the All Blacks in town so hopefully that gets some interest as well. These two games add a lot to the rugby calendar in the absence of a test match.”
Canterbury Rugby chief executive Nathan Godfrey said the All Blacks match was a reward for Canterbury Rugby fans, as it would not be broadcast on television and tickets would sell for just $20 in comparison with an All Blacks test, which sells for about $90 at its lowest.
“When we received the news last year that Christchurch wouldn’t be awarded an All Black test match for the next two years, we asked NZR and our city stakeholders to rally around the Canterbury Rugby community and they’ve certainly done that.”
Canterbury head coach Joe Maddock said the All Blacks fixture would be valuable to his side.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for our players to have a hit-out prior to the start of the representative season and against some high-quality opposition.
“We are playing in the Cantabrians’ uniform, which means we might see a few club players in our squad and they’ll get to play 40 minutes against the All Blacks – that’s going to provide a great challenge for some of these young guys and will be dream come true for them, I’m sure.”
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson said the game would provide his side with an important hit-out during the international window.
“This is a really exciting opportunity for us and a great experience for some of the younger members of our squad to get a taste of playing an international team in what is an historic fixture.
The French Barbarians XV will also play the Highlanders on June 22 in Invercargill. It’s on a Friday, the night before France meets the All Blacks in the third and final test in Dunedin.