Midweek tour matches to remain at one per year

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2013
Frederic Michalak
Getty Images
OLD SCHOOL: Frederic Michalak of France in action against the Blues at North Harbour Stadium earlier this year.

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Midweek matches are trendy again, but those hoping extended tours are back on the agenda are in for a disappointment.

England will follow France's lead in playing a fourth match in New Zealand during the June test window next year when they play the Crusaders in Christchurch.

It begs the question whether a second midweek match could be scheduled during an in-bound window that sees visiting teams in the country for three weeks.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said cost and logistics meant the romantic notion of a longer tour simply wasn't possible.

"The reality is the preparation for a test match is such an intense process now with the coaches and the leaders of the group and everybody else," he said yesterday.

"Trying to run more than one midweek game, you'd end up duplicating a whole lot of resources and the economics of it just don't work."

However, Tew said there was a genuine willingness by touring sides to play New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises.

"Hopefully everyone who comes in the future will look at the French experience and think it was successful as England have and put their hand up. We'll deal with it on a year-by-year basis."

The matches can only be scheduled at the request of the visiting side and with Wales next up in 2016 Tew expects the trend to continue.

While some will continue to lament the fact tours no longer take in the provinces, there were plenty of smiles in Napier yesterday.

Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chief executive Mike Bishop said the All Blacks test against Argentina next September would be "huge for the region".

Napier has hosed only one All Blacks test, against Samoa in 1996, a match notable for being fullback Christian Cullen's international debut.

Capacity has always been the stumbling block for McLean Park, but by covering its famous embankment with temporary seating, the union has found a way to satisfy the NZRU's criteria.

"We'll get up to 22,000 which will look pretty spectacular on the night. It'll be a hell of an occasion," Bishop said.

"I have to applaud the NZRU because in the past we've had the attitude, probably wrongly, that it was beyond us. They encouraged us to have a crack, there were no guarantees, we had to measure up and we did."

Though Bishop believed McLean Park had packed in close to 25,000 during the union's famous Ranfurly Shield era of the 1960s, next year's test promised to be the biggest seated crowd.

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The Hurricanes are also still looking to play their Super Rugby match against the Bulls at McLean Park in 2014.

- Fairfax Media

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