YOKOHAMA – New Zealand already own the Bledisloe Cup after winning the series’ first two games, but the Wallabies will still be fully motivated for Saturday’s test.
Despite both sides promising intensity on the pitch, the test is not expected to fill Nissan Stadium. A spokesman for the Japan Rugby Football Union said he “thinks about 45,000 to 50,000 will come to the stadium,” which holds 72,327. Kyodo News has learned up to 10 percent of the crowd will arrive via giveaways.
After his team’s captain run at the venue on Friday, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said, “Every test match is a massive test match.
“There is always a heap of motivation playing for your country. It’s a shame we are not playing for some silverware. (But) we get an opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the world. We are competitive blokes and in a high-performance environment and you want to be doing that when the lights are on.”
It was a view backed up by former All Blacks flanker Richie McCaw on Thursday night at an event organized by the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
McCaw said that while the game was a dead rubber, it was still of huge importance to both sides “so they can get a feel for what it will be like here for six weeks next year (at the Rugby World Cup).”
He also said the rivalry the two nations had in all aspects of life, and particularly rugby, would ensure it would be a full-blooded affair.
“The Bledisloe Cup is, outside of the World Cup, the most important trophy we play for as an All Black and I think it is probably similar for the Wallabies,” said the only man to have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup twice as captain.
“That means this test match on Saturday is right up there with the most important matches you play in a season.”
The game, however, does not seem to have caught the attention of the Japanese public. While the commercial arrangements around the match have not been disclosed it is understood that Australia as the away side will have its expenses covered, while New Zealand (the home side) has had its costs guaranteed by the JRFU.
The reason constantly put forward for Japan’s inclusion in big Southern Hemisphere rugby events is the money that apparently exists here. But the lack of a full house for such a big event poses questions.
With many fans having already forked out large sums to purchase World Cup tickets, the cost of tickets for the Bledisloe, which range from ¥7,000 to ¥32,000, may simply be too steep.
The decision by the JRFU to hold the Brave Blossoms vs. World XV game in Osaka on the eve of the Bledisloe match has also had a big impact, with many fans in the western Japan opting to stay close to home and watch the national team rather than the trans-Tasman rivals.
“If we are being honest, it is not ideal the cup has already been won,” Steve Tew, the CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union, said, referring to the relatively poor ticket sales.
“If the series was one-all, then I am sure we would be playing in front of a very full house. Unfortunately we are not but I am sure it will be a great occasion and build up nicely for next year,” when Nissan Stadium hosts the final of the World Cup.
His Australian counterpart, Raelene Castle agreed, saying the game would highlight the two nations’ “intense rivalry.”
“Even though the All Blacks have retained the trophy, we know that won’t take away from the adversarial nature of the game. It will be very competitive.”