x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

All Blacks to take old and new on tour

The old and new orders of international rugby will be placed in contrast when the All Blacks leave New Zealand to play end-of-season test matches in Hong Kong and the UK.

WELLINGTON // The old and new orders of international rugby will be placed in contrast when the All Blacks leave New Zealand today to play end-of-season test matches in Hong Kong and the UK. New Zealand's ultimate destination is Britain where it will attempt to achieve for the third time in 103 years a grand slam of test victories over the Home Unions, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The New Zealanders embarked on that journey in 1905 when they earned the sobriquet All Blacks, the creation of an English journalist, and were denied their first-ever grand slam by a controversial 3-0 loss to Wales. It took until 1978 for New Zealand to first achieve the feat and they repeated it under current coach Graham Henry in 2005. It is the stop they will make along the route this year that makes the latest expedition demonstrative of the modern face of world rugby.

The All Blacks will break their journey in Hong Kong where, on Nov 1 they will play Australia in a Bledisloe Cup match. That match will mark the first occasion Australia and New Zealand have played each other outside their home nations, other than in a World Cup. The match has no particular competitive significance. New Zealand and Australia - itself embarking on a tour involving matches against England, France, Italy, Wales and the Barbarians - have already met in three test matches this season, for the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup trophies.

It is that windfall from the 40,000 sellout though which makes the concept of staging test matches at neutral venues increasingly attractive to rugby unions in the professional era. New Zealand and Australia have pressed for more matches to be played outside the tours schedule or at neutral venues to maximize revenues in the future. The teams may play at Denver's Mile High Stadium next year and the New Zealand Rugby Union said it was considering playing two tests at neutral venues next season.

Among the proposals under consideration is a match against Ireland at Boston. "The interest from all over the world in the fact that the All Blacks and Wallabies are playing in Asia is really significant, and it won't be the last time," the Australia Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill said. * AP