The All Blacks – not the Springboks – are marketing the game in Japan and North America
Apart from the match between the Maori All Blacks and Canada, the All Blacks are busy putting a plan together to take their brand of rugby to the USA.
This piece by COLIN McCANN, The Roar.
You’d be forgiven for not following the Canada versus Maori All Blacks match on Sunday if you live outside of Canada. It was streamed live and for free on the IRB website, but Canada did not face the full All Blacks.
There was Australia versus England to watch, not to mention all the other non-rugby events going on. Nevertheless I’m hoping you’ll consider at least watching some highlights, because this was more than just an exciting match.
It may have far-reaching consequences for North American rugby.
The game was played in front of 22,500+ people (of whom I was one) at BMO Field, home of the Major League Soccer franchise Toronto FC. This makes it the largest crowd ever in Canadian rugby history. It was broadcast live on TSN, the country’s largest sports broadcaster, during midday.
It was the next iteration in more prominent games being played, as a result of Rugby Canada’s aggressive efforts to promote the game.
In just the last year or so, BMO Field has hosted four big matches: a Test against Italy, another against Ireland, and the definitive Rugby World Cup qualifying match against the USA.
All of these matches saw increasing crowds and increasing media prominence, most if not all also being broadcast live.
Rugby Canada has used the Pacific Nations Cup matches and Americas Rugby Championship tournament to take the game to different cities across the country, with smaller stadia.
This has allowed it to strategically focus the big matches like these on BMO Field.
Ireland drew 20,000 fans, while the USA match saw unprecedented post-match coverage, which doubled as Rugby World Cup 2015 promotion.
The Maori All Black game blew these games out of the water.
There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the city and across the country, an enthusiastic capacity crowd, and ample post-match coverage.
This may have been the case for other matches, but that would have been just among the rugby crowd, which, as in most of the world, is insular but passionate.
Very rarely has this been extended to the general population, however. This was a perfect match for that occasion.
The sky was clear even if the air was cold. Eight tries were scored, six by the Maori, and two by Canada (including the first try of the game, a near-perfect pushover maul, to which the crowd erupted).
Running rugby and skill dominated proceedings.
If we are being realistic, there are some downsides this match displayed about rugby in Canada. For one, it’s pretty plain that a lot of the publicity centered on the novelty of the Haka and about a third of the crowd probably didn’t realise until match day that the Maori All Blacks are not the All Blacks.
This might paint a picture of a still-ignorant public.
But for once, the crowd appeared to understand the rules. For once they cheered more than the hits, and instead cheered good lineouts, scrum steals, offloads, etc.
This was probably the first game I’ve watched where I haven’t had to explain the rules to a newbie. Moreover, people realised the strength and depth of rugby in New Zealand.
In talking to a lot of people, they had an innate understanding about the global structure of rugby; which national teams were good and where the game was played.
People appear to know something about the game on the field as well as know something about the game off it.
After the match, many people felt this is what it must be like to be in Prague, for example, and watch Team Canada play hockey against the Czech national team.
It’s a trope in Canadian sports that whenever we lose to someone at any sport other than hockey (that is, ice hockey to you folk) we say “at least we’d win at hockey”. But that pessimistic attitude was mostly absent.
In its place was just awe at the skill level of the Maori, respect for their style of play, discussions about this game, not another. There were no commiserations to rationalise the gap between the Maori and the Canadian team, which didn’t have most of their Europe-based pros to call upon.
No one appeared to brush off the result and revert to type.
Even as a defeat, this game illustrates the increased prominence the game enjoys locally.
Next summer BMO field will host Scotland. I think that with any luck, by then we’ll see further development, and Canadian fans will more than ever come to watch the game on its own merits.
I know for a fact the newbies I went with were converted and have said they intend to go.
This Saturday the Maori will play the USA in Philadelphia. The last I heard, this match was also sold out.
It’s very likely the novelty of the Haka and the misunderstanding of which team they’re facing will inflate the crowd and publicity somewhat there, as it did in Toronto.
But with any luck, the end result will be the same; fans having learnt something about the game.
With that in mind, I’ll be cheering for the Americans, which I hope you realise is a major sacrifice for a Canadian to be making.