The All Blacks are set to face Fiji and Italy in a lightweight test series next July – after being turned down by several smaller nations to clash before the end of this year.
The Herald understands next year’s series would see the All Blacks host Italy (two tests) and Vern Cotter’s Fiji (one) at the same time as the British and Irish Lions’ scheduled blockbuster tour of South Africa.
The schedule remains in doubt, however, due to New Zealand’s border restrictions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc with the international calendar – with the All Blacks’ tests against Wales and Scotland, scheduled for July this year, postponed indefinitely and the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship in serious doubt.
The All Blacks last played Fiji nine years ago in Dunedin, winning 60-14, while it’s been 11 years since Italy lost 27-6 in their last appearance on New Zealand soil.
At the weekend, All Blacks coach Ian Foster revealed the North-South match had been scheduled for the first time since 2012 after multiple second-tier teams turned down invitations to take on the All Blacks between the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa and the start of the Mitre 10 Cup.
“We had a window of time between Super Rugby Aotearoa and Mitre 10 Cup. Normally we would try to play a test match – potentially against a Tier 2 country. There was no Tier 2 country that wanted to play us,” Foster told Martin Devlin on Newstalk ZB.
“We put an invite out to a few but clearly a lot of countries aren’t in a situation or prepared to come over here and play at the moment, and we fully understand that.”
Foster says the North-South match – which NZ Rugby are hoping can be played in front of a crowd to bring in $1 million in revenue – isn’t vital for the All Blacks, but is important from an economic perspective.