Crusaders' England gamble to pay dividends

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 11/06/2014

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Taking a punt on hosting England could earn the Crusaders around $25,000.

The 17,300-capacity AMI Stadium is only several hundred tickets short of selling out, negating fears next Tuesday night's match could have cost the franchise financially.

"Now we have sold more than 17,000 (tickets) we will make a small surplus from the game - as will the New Zealand Rugby Union - which is great because we took the risk," Crusaders boss Hamish Riach said.

"If we hadn't managed to sell this many tickets it might have been risky but the public has responded fantastically well.

"After the surplus is shared with the NZRU we might make $25,000 each out of it. There are a lot of costs around this match but that is all fine."

Mid-week matches between Super Rugby and international teams are a recent addition to the rugby calendar.

Last year an under-strength Blues side lost 38-15 to France at North Harbour Stadium which has a capacity of 25,000 but was less than half full.

Unlike the Blues, who only had several weeks to market their match because of the late arrangement to play Les Bleus, the Crusaders benefited from putting tickets on sale in late January.

Fears sales would be affected by the absence of the All Blacks haven't materialised. The Crusaders will be forced to field a second-string side with 10 players (including Matt Todd who has been called in as injury cover for Sam Cane) on All Blacks duty.

Dan Carter, who will begin his post-sabbatical comeback by playing for his Southbridge club this weekend, has already ruled himself out of the England fixture and Nemani Nadolo is on duty with Fiji.

There remains a strong argument for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to release fringe players such as Ryan Crotty and Todd, who weren't involved in the first test and are not expected to play in Dunedin on Saturday night, but Riach said the Crusaders were not complaining.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder recently said he was content with the depth of his squad, apart from lock because All Blacks Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird and the injured Luke Romano are unavailable.

England are certain to be competitive, with coach Stuart Lancaster expected to demand his lot push for test caps ahead of the third test in Hamilton.

When the match was arranged, the Canterbury Rugby Football Union and the Crusaders struck a deal which would ensure they also hosted Argentina next year in the Rugby Championship.

Although there was not a significant rush for tickets initially Riach wasn't concerned the match would be a fizzer.

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"Even if the game hadn't gone as well as it could have, we still had a strong sense that having the team playing this year and having a test next year was still better than having a test this year and nothing the following year.''

Riach noted the match would not have been possible without the co-operation of England, who were supposed to be based in Christchurch during the 2011 Rugby World Cup but had to relocate because of the earthquakes.

England will play in special jerseys, which will later be auctioned and the funds donated to the Canterbury rugby earthquake charitable trust.

- The Press

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