All Blacks confirm USA test match in Chicago
The pulling power of the All Blacks faces a big test in November when the world champions play the USA Eagles at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The match was announced overnight at a special function at the iconic 61,000-seat American sporting venue which was home to the NFL's Chicago Bears. All Black Liam Messam flew in especially for the occasion on his bye week of Super Rugby.
The All Blacks were to play the test as their latest money-spinning, goodwill-generating fixture en route to the UK for their annual end-of-year tour.
It's a match coach Steve Hansen regarded as valuable preparation for the three internationals that followed, but which could also generate in excess of $1 million revenue for the NZRU.
The great unknown would be whether the world's best rugby side could go anywhere near to filling the stadium for what should be a mismatch of epic proportions in a country not exactly a hotbed of the 15-a-side code. The match should, however, easily set a record attendance for a test in the US.
As always, New Zealand Rugby powerbrokers were optimistic the pulling power of the world's No 1 rugby brand would overcome the obstacles for just the fourth meeting between the All Blacks and USA, the third official test and the first on American soil since 1980.
"We are very excited to be taking the All Blacks to a part of the world we know is incredibly keen on all sports and where we believe there is a real thirst to see the style of rugby we are famous for," NZR chief executive Steve Tew said.
"We think Chicago and Solider Field is a great fit for both sides."
The ground was a memorial to American soldiers and opened in 1924, the same year the USA won the gold medal for rugby at the Paris Olympics. It was the last time rugby was contested at the Olympics.
"I visited Soldier Field recently and this is a stadium with huge atmosphere, rich history and wonderful facilities and a ground which has never hosted an international rugby match," Tew said.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said the US test presented an exciting opportunity to help raise interest in rugby in a country already enjoying growth in the sport.
"You look at the calibre of athletes you see playing basketball and NFL and if they put some real energy into rugby, there would be a fairly big pool to choose from. A lot of people don't know about the All Blacks in the US so it will be great to show what rugby is all about."
There was not exactly a glittering tradition between the two nations. New Zealand last played the US at the 1991 World Cup in England and they also featured in an exhibition match in San Diego, California, in 1980. The teams also played each other 101 years ago in Berkeley, California.
Hansen said his team would be enthused by the unique nature of the fixture and also have to make crucial adjustments facing an opponent they did not see regularly.
"Tactically, when you have a different opposition you have got to appreciate what they do and what they bring and make sure you have got the tools in the toolbox to combat that."
American broadcaster NBC would provide the live US broadcast of the match which would kick off at 2.30pm on Saturday, November 1 (NZT Sunday, November 2, 7.30am). Details for New Zealand coverage were yet to be confirmed. Tickets were to go on sale June 17.
The All Blacks would spend a week in the city preparing for the test.
"There's no question this will be the biggest rugby match in American history," said veteran Eagles loose forward Louis Stanfill.
"I can't think of a better way to prepare for the World Cup than to play the champions."
ALL BLACKS VS USA
The All Blacks and USA have met just three times, with two of those matches accorded test status:
1991 - Rugby World Cup, Gloucester, England. All Blacks 46 USA 6
1980 - San Diego, California. All Blacks 53 USA 6 (non-test)
1913 - Berkeley, California. All Blacks 51 USA 3