NZRU chief's comments renew Bledisloe fears
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union was forced yesterday to offer further reassurance that a Bledisloe Cup match would go ahead in the city as scheduled on October 30 following remarks by the New Zealand rugby chief that switching the match to England remained a possibility.
New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs, told a New Zealand radio station that concerns over sluggish ticket sales and poor returns might still see the fourth game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies this season moved to Twickenham.
'It is a possibility. Contact's already been made in that respect,' Hobbs told Radio Sport. 'We need to be careful though. People have already made some commitment to the game in Hong Kong so it's not straightforward given the time we have until that match.'
However, HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory said yesterday: 'The Bledisloe match for Hong Kong remains on as scheduled for October 30. The HKRFU will continue to work with the Australian and New Zealand rugby unions to ensure the event is a success.
'We look forward to our discussions with both unions in the coming days and we remain committed to hosting international rugby matches in Hong Kong.'
It is the second time this week that the HKRFU has had to give the assurance following media reports in New Zealand that the match might not be played in Hong Kong after all.
In Sydney, Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill revealed it would be the last time the Bledisloe Cup would be played abroad, and said that both the ARU and the NZRU would be having some 'deep and meaningful conversations with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union in the next 48 hours'.
O'Neill confirmed that so far, no decision had been made to move the game away from Hong Kong and said everyone was committed to it going ahead at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium.
'There are no plans to cancel the match. We have to find ways and means of getting ticket sales back to what they should be,' O'Neill said. 'It's fair to say that ticket sales have not been as we had hoped.'
O'Neill added: 'Regardless of the challenges we have had in Hong Kong this year, the days of four Bledisloes are over.'
The Wallabies and the All Blacks have played each other in Hong Kong and Tokyo over the previous two years to generate income and try to develop rugby in Asia. Both teams will stop over in Hong Kong on their way to Europe for Northern Hemisphere tours.
Concerns about the game in Hong Kong first surfaced on Tuesday when a New Zealand television station ran a story on prime-time news that the second appearance of the Bledisloe Cup in Hong Kong was in doubt. The first offshore Bledisloe Cup was played in Hong Kong in 2008.
HKRFU executive director Robert Knight admitted that ticket sales were slow, putting it down to people being away over the summer holidays. It is believed that fewer than 10,000 tickets have been sold so far with most going to local clubs. There has been a poor response from the general public while sales in both Australia and New Zealand are way down from two years ago.
The latest concerns will not alleviate worries faced by the HKRFU which has taken a more hands-on role in the organisation of the game than in 2008.
'We have left a lot of the organisation to the HKRU for which they are getting paid a fee,' O'Neill said yesterday. 'It's fair to say we need to be more hands-on and work very hard to make sure it's a success, but we can't gild the lily, ticket sales are off the pace with a couple of months to go.
'We'll do whatever we have to do to make sure it works.'
Meanwhile, New Zealand Press Association reported RFU business operations manager Paul Vaughan as saying that hosting the test at Twickenham would be a 'privilege'.
'Clearly the game is a major event in the annual rugby calendar and it would be a privilege to host it in England so we would be open to listening to approaches from the organisers,' Vaughan said.