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Old and new collide on All Blacks' spring tour

Old and new collide on All Blacks' spring tour

The old and new orders of international rugby will be placed in contrast when the All Blacks leave New Zealand Monday to play end-of-season test matches in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
New Zealand's ultimate destination is Britain where it will attempt to achieve for the third time in 103 years a "grand slam" of test victories over the Home Unions, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The New Zealanders embarked on that journey in 1905 when they earned the sobriquet "All Blacks", the creation of an English journalist, and were denied their first-ever grand slam by a controversial 3-0 loss to Wales.
No tour made by the All Blacks could be more traditional. They have set out on the same voyage _ first by steamer, then cocooned in the business class section of a modern airliner _ repeatedly for more than a century, attempting the grand slam on nine occasions. It took until 1978 for New Zealand to first achieve the feat and they repeated it under current coach Graham Henry in 2005.
It is the stop they will make along the route this year that makes the latest expedition demonstrative of the modern face of world rugby. The All Blacks will break their journey in Hong Kong where, on Nov.1, they will play Australia in a Bledisloe Cup match. That match will mark the first occasion Australia and New Zealand have played each other outside their home nations, other than in a World Cup.
The match has no particular competitive significance. New Zealand and Australia _ itself embarking on a tour involving matches against England, France, Italy, Wales and the Barbarians _ have already met in three test matches this season, for the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup trophies, and the All Blacks have already captured both.
In spite of that, the match is a sellout and sales of 40,000 tickets are expected to yield almost US$10 million which will be shared by the Australian and New Zealand rugby unions. It is that windfall which makes the concept of staging test matches at neutral venues increasingly attractive to rugby unions in the professional era.
Revenues earned from matches played under the international tours schedule are largely retained by the host union, regardless of the respective drawing power of the competing teams. New Zealand and Australia have pressed for more matches to be played outside the tours schedule or at neutral venues to maximize revenues.
New Zealand and Australia may play at Denver's Mile High Stadium next year and the New Zealand Rugby Union said Friday it was considering playing two tests at neutral venues next season, in addition to the All Blacks' current schedule. Among the proposals under consideration is a match against Ireland at Boston. Australia is already eager to explore similar opportunities, even a Bledisloe Cup match at Twickenham, London.
"The interest from all over the world in the fact that the All Blacks and Wallabies are playing in Asia is really significant, and it won't be the last time," Australia Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill said.
"We may even play All Blacks and the Wallabies at Twickenham, that's not out of the question."
New Zealand chief executive Steve Tew said matches such as the one in Hong Kong would earn "significantly more money" than tests played in New Zealand and would contribute to a healthy profit for his union next year.
Tew said New Zealand was already "well down the path" toward securing similar matches next season but was also aware of not "overcooking the golden goose" by scheduling too many matches for the All Blacks.
Beyond Hong Kong, the All Blacks' tour resolves itself into a now-familiar routine: tests against the Home Unions on each of four consecutive weekends. There will be an additional echo of tradition in the fact the All Blacks will play a single midweek match against the Irish club side Munster.
New Zealand's tours to Britain once comprised a heavy schedule of tests and other matches: the 1978 team played 18 games in addition to the grand slam tests and a match against the Barbarians. In the crowded modern calendar such tours are no longer possible and All Blacks visits to Europe generally comprise only tests.
The Munster match has been scheduled to mark the 30th anniversary of club's historic 12-0 victory over the first grand slam All Blacks.
The forthcoming tour is also indicative in many ways of the professional era. The All Blacks will have a squad of 35 players to play five matches and a substantial number of support staff, among them doctors, physiotherapists, video analysts and specialist coaches. The 1905 tourists who played 35 matches including five tests over four months had only 27 players, a manager and coach.
Coach Henry, in naming a squad including seven new caps, described the All Blacks' itinerary as "the most demanding test match tour schedule faced by an All Blacks team in the professional era."


Updated : 2021-05-18 16:01 GMT+08:00