The All Blacks are finally ready to take their iconic global brand to the United States - though who they'll play there remains a work in progress.
New Zealand Rugby is currently negotiating a big-money game in the USA next November, hoping to take the world champions to a major stadium somewhere in the vicinity of New York on the eastern seaboard.
The game would be the equivalent of this year's test against Japan in Tokyo, played en route to the UK for the traditional end-of-year tour. It would also significantly strengthen the relationship with US-based major sponsors AIG.
New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew said negotiations are advanced around the fixture, which would be the All Blacks' first match in the United States in the professional era.
"Japan was very successful, we were very happy with that, and we will be looking for a similar game in North America this time next year," Tew said in Paris last night.
"We're advanced [in discussions] but there's still a bit to go. The hardest thing actually is who we play. We've got to sort that out first and foremost."
The opponent is problematic because the fixture falls outside the IRB's player release window. With the Wallabies pretty much off the table - there is no desire to add to the three Bledisloe contests already on the slate - and the preference for a team stronger than the hosts could muster, Tew admitted some hard thinking had to be done.
"We're looking at some options in terms of venue," he said. "Our first preference is the East Coast and to play somewhere close to New York, but we've got to find the appropriate stadium. It's got to be available that weekend, and it's got to be big enough.
"It's likely to be against some sort of invitational side. We'll do our very best, but there will be a little bit of a compromise. No doubt some people will see what we're trying to achieve and accept it and others will be critical."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the match was valuable from his perspective, and he'd much rather have it tagged on at the start of the tour, than have to eat into the players' much-needed break period at the other end.
"The States is not somewhere we've been a lot, so it's an exciting place to go," he said. "What approach we take to that game, we'll have to see where we're sitting. It's an opportunity to really have a look at what happens at World Cup time, so do we just take 31 and deal with it, or if we're not quite satisfied where we are with the mix, do we take some younger guys again?
"By the time we have to pick that squad it's about 12 months away and we'll have answers to those questions."
Tew said the fixture, unlike Japan which made a small profit, would be a "revenue generator" but was not being done for that reason.
"It's driven by the fact Steve would like another game, and it would be very helpful for us to play in the American market," Tew said.
"AIG are based there, though we're not committed contractually to do so."
The All Blacks last played in the United States in 1980 when Graham Mourie's side defeated the USA national team 53-6 at San Diego Chargers Stadium.
- Sunday News
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