All Blacks, Wallabies to boost rugby in Japan

The All Blacks and the Wallabies say they want to use their Bledisloe Cup clash here on Saturday to promote rugby in the growing Asian market, despite a low-key media welcome on their arrival.

It will be the second time that a New Zealand-Australia Test is played on neutral soil after last year’s ground-breaker in Hong Kong, home to the world’s biggest rugby seven’s tournament.

Some 50 Japanese fans greeted the New Zealand squad at Narita airport on Sunday evening ahead of the year’s fourth and final Test between two of the world’s strongest teams at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

But there were no Japanese media in sight.

Australia coach Robbie Deans faced just three reporters and one photographer from the local press at a news conference as he expressed his hope to stop his side’s six-match losing streak to the All Blacks.

On Monday, a dozen of Japanese reporters turned up at media sessions by both teams although newspaper sports pages were dominated by baseball, football and Grand Prix figure skating news.

Deans said on arrival that the weekend Test, which kicks off northern hemisphere tours for both sides, is ”important to promote rugby in this part of the world.”

”We know how passionate you [Japanese] are about the game and there is an enormous scope, we believe, to develop rugby.”

Japan, the top dogs in Asian rugby but minnows on the global stage, want to prove their entrepreneurship by hosting the trans-Tasman classic after winning the bid in July for the 2019 rugby World Cup.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said an extra Bledisloe Cup in Tokyo ”is a good advertisement for the game”.

He said any New Zealand-Australia match was ”the hardest contested fixture”. ”So it’s no difference whether you play in Sydney or Auckland or Tokyo. There is a lot of edge to the game and both sides are very keen to win.”

According to organisers, about a half of the 48 000 seats for the match had been reserved by Monday with some 8 000 top-priced tickets — costing to ¥70 000 — sold out.

”I’m a bit worried whether the game will be pumped up,” Manami Yasuoka, a middle-aged rugby fan who works at an Internet provider, said at the airport.

She added: ”I don’t understand why rugby is not so popular as football. I want the media to be more active in promoting the game.”

The match will be only be broadcast live at home by a satellite pay TV station.

”We want to fill up the stadium with such a tremendous fixture and advertise a great interest in rugby,” said a sports marketing official, who expected at least 40 000 spectators to show up.

Some 39 000 people saw the All Blacks edge the Wallabies 19-14 in Hong Kong last year.

By hosting big events, the Japan Rugby Football Union hopes to stop the decline in rugby’s popularity at home. The number of registered players has slipped to 120 000 from 170 000 in a decade.

It also wants to more than double the average Test match attendance to 40 000 by 2015. — Sapa-AFP

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