• Reuters

  • SHARE

New Zealand Rugby is expecting a “near-capacity” crowd of some 47,000 to pack into Auckland’s Eden Park for the second Bledisloe Cup international against Australia on Sunday.

Pictures of 31,000 fans without masks cheering on the three-time world champions in the first test in Wellington last weekend attracted plenty of attention on social media.

The envy from fans in countries where sports continue to be played in empty stadiums will only be exacerbated on Sunday when the All Blacks return to their spiritual home, where they are unbeaten in 43 matches going back to 1994.

The bumper crowds are possible because of New Zealand’s relative success in combating COVID-19, having appeared to have stamped out community transmission of the novel coronavirus earlier this year following a tough nationwide lockdown.

A renewed outbreak in Auckland in August was also brought under control with fresh lockdown measures and NZR said on Tuesday that 40,000 tickets for Sunday’s match in the city had already been snapped up.

“It was fantastic to see so many fans come together in Wellington for (our) first test in more than a year, and after such an enthralling contest interest has gone to another level,” NZR’s Chris Lendrum said in a statement.

“We are now looking forward to bringing test rugby to New Zealand’s largest city and with more than 40,000 tickets sold it’s shaping as a special occasion.”

Sunday’s enthralling 16-16 draw was the first rugby union test after a seven-month hiatus caused by the pandemic but fans Down Under have plenty more to look forward to over the next couple of months.

The Rugby Championship, which involves the trans-Tasman Sea rivals as well as world champion South Africa and Argentina, will be hosted in Australia starting with the third Bledisloe Cup test at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium on Oct. 31.

The government of the state of New South Wales, where community transmission has been reduced to a handful of cases each day, loosened restrictions on big stadiums from Oct. 1 to allow them to be filled to 50% of capacity.

That means the three tests played at the Olympic Stadium could be played in front of crowds of 40,000, while the Western Sydney Stadium will be able to welcome 15,000 fans to the four matches it stages.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)