Crusaders might face England in Christchurch

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:01 20/11/2013
Crusaders
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
INTERNATIONAL FEEL: The Crusaders are lining up a clash with England next year.

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Crusaders chief Hamish Riach remains optimistic England could meet his team in Christchurch next June.

The All Blacks' 30-22 win over England at Twickenham last weekend has created speculation the two sides may collide in the 2015 World Cup final and Riach knows how much value the Crusaders could gain from being exposed to England when they tour New Zealand next year.

In addition to the revenue from gate-takings the Crusaders would be exposed to TV viewers in the northern hemisphere market and also be able to keep their fans engaged when Super Rugby shuts down during the domestic test window.

"To play England, especially around the amount of interest from the last couple of test matches (against the All Blacks) and with the World Cup looming, I think there is immense appeal," Riach said yesterday. "There is still a possibility we could play them. The decisions haven't been finalised."

Unlike the Chiefs, who are keen to play European champions Toulon in France next summer, the Crusaders haven't added any northern hemisphere opponents to their schedule for next season.

They hoped to meet the Rebels in a warm-up match in Singapore last February. Sanzar approved the Crusaders' request for the opening-round bye but when the Australians' Super Rugby games were bought forward to accommodate the British and Irish Lions series the Singapore game was scratched.

Despite considerable interest from foreign clubs over the years the Crusaders haven't accepted any invites. Time constraints, concerns over travel schedules and the availability of players have been cited as reasons to decline.

"We think about that constantly and have had many chances to do that over the years," Riach noted.

If the Crusaders accept a midweek match against England it is highly unlikely they will be granted a test in Christchurch next year. It seems likely a deal would also be required by the New Zealand Rugby Union to guarantee a test is played in the city in 2015, World Cup year.

This year France played the Blues and John Kirwan's side, which was missing their All Blacks, was well beaten 38-15 in Albany.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was unrepentant about hogging the Blues players, despite several not being listed in the match-day side to face France a few days later.

This would be an issue for the Crusaders, they have contributed 12 players for the All Blacks' northern tour, who may be worried about naming a watered-down side.

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Riach said that would be an issue to be worked through with the All Blacks management: "If that game comes off it will be the Crusaders against England and we would have to put out the best side we possibly can. But in the end we are not the sole arbiter of that."

The NZRU hold all the aces because all players are centrally contracted. The Crusaders, who are negotiating directly with the NZRU to host England, may not be the only franchise to bid for the fixture.

After playing France this season, the Blues are not eligible to apply.

- Fairfax Media

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