Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Chicago likely test venue

Chicago's Soldier Field will host the All Blacks in November. Photo / AP
Chicago's Soldier Field will host the All Blacks in November. Photo / AP

It has been a huge week for the All Blacks' short-term plans to build their profile in the United States but there remains uncertainty about their longer-term strategy.

Agreement is understood to have been reached that the All Blacks will play a test in Chicago on November 2. Some tinkering of the pitch at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, will ensure it is wide enough to host the fixture. USA Rugby is moving towards agreement with relevant English Premiership clubs about player release.

The expectation is that a minimum 40,000 tickets will be sold, which should enable USA Rugby to make a sizeable profit after they have paid the New Zealand Rugby Union a guaranteed sum, believed to be $1 million to cover their costs.

Commercially, the deal serves both parties well. From a rugby perspective, it will be a chance of a lifetime for the Eagles' players, while for the All Blacks, it will be useful practice for a World Cup schedule that sees them play their final pool game against Tonga and then shift to the tougher knockout rounds.

This will be simulated by playing England, Scotland (don't laugh) and Wales following their US venture.

But the question is, what next? New York-based AIG are the All Blacks' biggest sponsor and have pushed hard since they came on board in 2012 for closer ties with the US.

That has aligned with the NZRU's objectives. They believe the All Blacks' financial well-being is linked to the growth of rugby in offshore markets.

The US and Japan are the two priority countries and this week a behind-the-scenes documentary on the All Blacks was aired on US cable channel Showtime. The network filmed the 60 Minutes piece last year during the Rugby Championship, essentially with a view that the All Blacks are the greatest sporting team Americans don't know about.

Last year, the Maori played the US in Philadelphia and by the end of this year, following the Chicago test, the profile of rugby, and specifically All Black rugby, should be significantly higher than it was when AIG signed up.

That profile has been helped this week by the Eagles securing qualification to the 2015 World Cup by defeating Uruguay in Atlanta.

Having made one footprint, the NZRU need to work out what to do to plant the other foot in the US.

It's questionable, given the gulf in quality between the All Blacks and Eagles, whether another test between the two would be a credible exercise. There have been loose plans to take on Ireland in either Boston or New York. The former has a particularly vibrant Irish community, while the latter is the home of AIG.

The NZRU have discovered it's not easy to generate interest when two sides play in neutral territory. The fourth Bledisloe Cup tests of 2008 and 2010 were played in Hong Kong and the fourth in 2009 was hosted by Tokyo. The last game was played in front of a half-capacity crowd, while the Japanese venture didn't net as much of a return as expected.

Perhaps the smartest long-term strategy is for New Zealand to increase the level of coaching expertise they make available to the US.

All Black forwards coach Mike Cron spent a week with the Eagles before the last World Cup and, even in that short time, significantly improved their scrummaging.

If the Eagles can become a Tier One nation, considered on a par with the likes of Scotland and Italy, then the All Blacks can sustain regular fixtures against them.

- Herald on Sunday

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 02 Oct 2014 10:54:29 Processing Time: 433ms