Tuesday, May 13, 2014

International Rugby: USA v New Zealand Confirmed for November 1 2014

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It is official the USA Eagles will play host the All Blacks on November 1 2014. In what is to be just the third ever time that New Zealand have played a test match in the USA the Eagles will begin their end of year test series at home by facing the number one team in the world and current world championship. The match will be played at the home of the Chicago Bears NFL team, Soldier Field as pictured to the right. 

The governing body of rugby in the country, USA Rugby, made the announcement on site at Soldier Field. It is to be the biggest rugby match in the history of North America. Never before has a venue the size of Soldier Field been used by either USA Rugby or Rugby Canada. Last year marked a significant moment for both unions as record crowds were in attendance in Houston and Toronto. In addition the USA sold out PPL Park in Philadelphia for a non-international against the Maori All Blacks. 

Following the success of hosting the Maori All Blacks the USA and the NZRU have collaborated to have their national teams face-off in November. Common interests from sponsors have played a central part as both teams carry the brand name of AIG. Indeed Fiji sought to host the All Blacks in 2013 but the request was declined and New Zealand instead played in Tokyo in what was part of tapping into an expanding market.

The coming months will see significant resources invested into enabling the event to be as successful as possible. With an eye to the future it is a unique opportunity to promote the sport within the USA like never before to expand its profile and attract more potential players of all ages. It is also a lucrative option for not only the All Blacks but the Wallabies and Springboks too.

The three original members of the Rugby Championship have added on additional test matches to their end of year tours to increase them from three to four or more. New Zealand's appearance in Chicago is the latest example and the NZRU is expected to claim a sum of $1million dollars for the test at Soldier Field. After the Chicago test the All Blacks have dates marked for London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Twickenham and the Millennium Stadium have been common destinations for added fixtures in the past but in order to not reach saturation point new locations are a part of a new agenda. The All Blacks faced the Wallabies in Hong Kong and Tokyo before facing Japan last November while the test in Chicago could be replicated in a number of other U.S cities while a visit to Vancouver or Toronto could also eventuate. 

Although the fixture is now official issues remain unresolved. The match is to occur outside of the IRB designated release window. Under Regulation 9 of the IRB charter all players must be made available for international duty over a three week period which starts after the date in which the test match will be played at Soldier Field.

In order to have professional players based abroad the union will need to strike an agreement with clubs for players to be released early and thus also return early to be at the disposal of their clubs. Players effected who were a part of the most recent Eagles squad include Scott LaValla (Stade Français), Eric Fry (Newcastle), Samu Manoa (Northampton), Hayden Smith, Titi Lamositele and Chris Wyles (Saracens) and Blaine Scully (Leicester Tigers).

The test is to be the third of its kind with the All Blacks previously having appeared twice in the USA for matches. The first test was over 100 years ago with a test match in Berkely, California while San Diego California hosts a non-capped match in 1980. Other than that there has only ever been one other match played that being when New Zealand and the USA met in England as part of Rugby World Cup 1991.

The city of Chicago has been utilized on six previous occassions by USA Rugby. Leading teams including France, Wales and Rugby World Cup 2019 hosts Japan have all previously played in the third largest U.S city. No test has been played at Soldier Field though and the authorities are alooking to sell out the 63,000 capacity NFL stadium.

The match it to be played on the first weekend of November on a date in which the Chicago Bears will have a bye and therefore not require use of Soldier Field. It is to be the fifth and final home test match for the USA in 2014. The year began with a Rugby World Cup qualifiying match against Uruguay in Atlanta and next month the USA will play host to Scotland in Houston while both Japan and Canada are to play test matches in California.

There is an official site launched in promotion of the fixture. It asks those interested to submit an email to obtain ticket presale information and to remain updated. The site can be accessed here. The match is scheduled for a 2:30pm kick-off local time. 

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