Rugby: Fewer tests on cards for All Blacks

The All Blacks perform the haka before their test against Italy at the Olympic stadium in Rome...
The All Blacks perform the haka before their test against Italy at the Olympic stadium in Rome last month. REUTERS/Max Rossi

The All Blacks' poor performances in the two "add-on" tests this year against Australia and England and a stronger financial position have prompted the New Zealand Rugby Union to consider playing fewer tests in 2013.

The third Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in Brisbane, which finished in a 18-18 draw, and the final test of the year against England at Twickenham, a humiliating 38-21 defeat for the All Blacks, were not originally on the calendar but were added as money spinners.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said now the lucrative deal with jersey sponsor AIG had been locked in until 2017, the organisation would base their decisions on what was best for the players heading into the 2015 World Cup.

Next year the All Blacks host France for three tests during the Super Rugby break. Then it's into the Rugby Championship against the Springboks, Wallabies and Pumas as usual.

There will again be an extra Bledisloe Cup test but the All Blacks are slated to play only Ireland, France and England on the Northern Hemisphere tour. There is a possibility an extra test against Wales or an international against the Barbarians could be added, with Tew saying talks with northern unions still had to take place.

Regardless, it appears the feedback from players and coach Steve Hansen about the tough nature of the latest tour in November and December has hit its mark and that extra test at the end of the year is looking less likely.

This year the All Blacks demolished Scotland, accounted for Italy, were excellent against Wales until the latter stages and hardly fired a shot against England.

Tew said he was aware of the demands placed on the All Blacks, especially those who have families, and that they are also integral to the success of their Super Rugby teams.

"The thing about the extra game, as an example, is that we're now able to sit back and say 'what's the best rugby outcome from the discussions for an extra game?'," Tew said.

"Would the All Black coaches and players see an extra game as beneficial for 2015 or is getting back and having another week off and getting back into Super Rugby earlier the better option? That's the discussion we're able to have rather than when we set up for 2012 three years ago when we desperately needed to play this extra game, and in fact the third Bledisloe is also a revenue earner.

''This year we put two extra matches into the schedule which earned us a considerable amount of money. The majority of guys who toured went and did another three or four days of commercial work and didn't get back until the weekend," he said.

"So it is a very demanding end of a tough year for our guys and we're keen to manage it. But we also don't want to take a knee-jerk reaction to a performance against England that didn't match up to what we'd expect.

"Now that we've locked in a considerable proportion of our commercial revenue we can make our decisions based on what's best for the team rather than necessarily having to take the money thing into account."

Tew said Hansen would have an input into next year's schedule.

"I've been talking to Steve on a regular basis and it's fair to say he's waxed and waned a little bit. There is an argument that having an additional game better mirrors what 2015 is going to be like."

Tew said he wasn't aware of any other All Blacks starting next year late. Keven Mealamu will relinquish the Blues captaincy to take an extended break, while Richie McCaw is taking a sabbatical and will miss the France tests and first part of the Crusaders season at least.

Tew said other players, such as Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith, could take a sabbatical in order to stay fresh for the 2015 World Cup in England and Wales.

- Patrick McKendry of APNZ

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