Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Eagles may land All Blacks

The United States Eagles look set to host the All Blacks in Chicago or Washington next year. Photo / Getty Images
The United States Eagles look set to host the All Blacks in Chicago or Washington next year. Photo / Getty Images

Agreement is likely to be reached this week on a historic test between the All Blacks and US Eagles next November.

Final details are yet to be confirmed but, with both countries agreed the test has to be at an iconic stadium, it is believed Chicago or Washington will be the host city.

The former has the NFL's oldest stadium - Soldier Field with a capacity of 61,000 - while the capital boasts the enormous 91,000 capacity FedEx Stadium where the Washington Redskins play.

The New Zealand Rugby Union have been keen to play in the US for some time and efforts to arrange a game there stepped up this year following the arrival of the New York-headquartered AIG as a major sponsor of the All Blacks. The first weekend of November next year was the preferred date to allow the All Blacks to play en-route to their European tour; finding an appropriate venue and opposition proved challenging.

Building a temporary stadium at an iconic New York or American landmark was a possibility at one stage.

One idea aired was to build a 20,000-seat temporary venue at Harvard University. The 83,000 capacity MetLife Stadium in New York - which will host the next Superbowl - would have been a spectacular (if challenging to fill) venue but it is believed it will probably be in use on the proposed Saturday and naming rights are held by a key rival to AIG.

Other major stadia in the North-East - Chicago, Washington, New York and Philadelphia - present problems with their dimensions and playing surfaces but there is confidence a solution can be found.

The other ongoing drama has been the question of who the All Blacks will play. The NZRU had initially been reluctant to play the Eagles and was instead looking at taking on a World XV. The proposed date falls outside the official IRB window, making it tough for the US to gain access to their professionals based with European clubs.

The Eagles will need their best men if the game is to have any semblance of competitive value. USA Rugby is making headway, though, with European clubs by changing their November test programme to return players to their clubs earlier than originally planned.

USA Rugby has made it clear it won't support the All Blacks playing a World XV. But the view across the Atlantic is that it will be a waste of time unless it is for a full test against the American national team. An exhibition-style game will most likely not engage a patriotic public.

USA Rugby has offered to underwrite the game's costs - meaning the NZRU will at least break even - but will most likely also ask for a guaranteed fee in anticipation of the ticket and broadcast revenue.

Whatever the outcome, the NZRU will be glad to put the issue of playing in the States to bed and have certainty about next year's plans. They will also have achieved a long-held goal. The NZRU struck a formal partnership with the US a few years back - coaching and other support to develop the game there.

When AIG came on board, they were keen to push the relationship further and for the All Blacks to play in the States this year. For a number of reasons, it wasn't possible, with the Maori instead taking in a two-game tour of Canada and the US.

- Herald on Sunday

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