All Blacks confirm Chicago match
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The New Zealand board has confirmed that the All Blacks will play a Test against the USA at Chicago's Soldier Field on Saturday, November 1.
The announcement, which was made at a press conference in Chicago, made clear the match was tied in to the All Blacks' and USA Rugby's sponsorship by US insurance giant AIG, even if the accompanying rhetoric was centred on spreading the game.
"We believe there is a real thirst [in the USA] to see the style of rugby we are famous for," said New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew. That comment was echoed by USA Rugby chief executive Nigel Melville. "Rugby is growing rapidly in America and to have the best team in the world and wonderful ambassadors for the game playing on our home soil for the first time in 34 years will be great for the game here."
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw stressed the potential in the USA. "You look at the calibre of athletes you see playing basketball and NFL and if they put some real energy into rugby, there would be a fairly big pool to choose from. A lot of people don't know about the All Blacks in the US so it will be great to play a game there and show what rugby is all about."
One issue could be the release of players for the USA side. The game falls outside the IRB window for mandatory player release and Melville admitted there was nothing that could be done to force the issue. "We want to put out the best team we possibly can," he said. "But we realise there are some restrictions under [IRB] regulation nine. We'll do our best."
A spokesman for Premiership Rugby told the Guardian: "Premiership Rugby clubs release players as per the requirements of IRB regulation nine for international matches and training."
One other question concerns the likely crowd. Soldier Field has a capacity of 61,000 and when Ireland played there last summer only 20,181 tickets were sold. "We'd love to sell out," said Melville, "and I think the sports-mad Chicago community are going to want to go. Could we sell it out? That would be fantastic, but we hope to set a record crowd for rugby in North America and we'll see what comes with that."
The game will kick-off at 2.30pm local time (2030 GMT) and will be broadcast in the USA by NBC. Tickets will go on sale on June 17.
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