The New Zealand and Australian Rugby Unions have announced that there will be a fourth test in this year's Bledisloe Cup series to be played in Hong Kong on November 1. International rugby may be crying out for a number of things, but another trans-Tasman clash certainly isn't one of them.
When the Tri-Nations series began, the two trans-Tasman clashes doubled as Bledisloe Cup fixtures, but many felt two encounters was not enough, as the holder needed just one win to retain the trophy. 2006 saw the Tri-Nations expanded to three rounds and fans were treated to a more exciting Bledisloe Cup series.
Now, in 2008, we have a fourth fixture being played in a neutral venue which extends the international season by seven weeks. Top players, if they play Air New Zealand Cup rugby, face the prospect of a season which stretches to almost ten months as this fourth Bledisloe game will be one weekend after the Air New Zealand Cup final.
In the press release put out jointly by the New Zealand, Australian and Hong Kong Rugby Unions, the talk is about expanding the game in Asia, about making rugby a global game and of the historic nature of this fixture, which will be the first meeting of these teams on neutral soil outside of a Rugby World Cup. It is unlikely in this politically correct climate, but it would be refreshing to have someone just come out and say, "We did it for the money."
This sort of fixture has long been foretold by the rumourmill which said the NZRU had done a number of backroom deals to secure the 2011 Rugby World Cup and that the All Blacks would be playing games in rich, but second tier rugby nations such as Hong Kong and Japan. It would seem in this instance that the rumours were right.
The various rugby unions will try to put a positive spin on this fixture, pointing out how exciting it will be if Australia are up 2-1 and this game ends up being the decider, but given the Super 14 form of the Australian teams, it is much more likely that this game will be a dead rubber.
Various leagues have experimented with taking their games overseas, the NFL played a regular season game in London in 2007 and the NHL have played games in Japan and China, but the difference here is these were games that were already scheduled, not added to the end of the schedule.
Hong Kong will put on a good event, they have always done a great job with their Sevens tournament and they will almost certainly sell out their 40,000 capacity stadium. Regardless of the result on the field, this will be a success off the field.
The Southern Hemisphere international calendar is already crowded enough, this game will be the tenth test match played by the All Blacks, and players will also be involved in Super 14 and Air New Zealand Cup duties. For an organisation facing a player exodus due to burnout, adding another fixture to the calendar seems like a strange way of solving the problem.