It's a Super Saturday from New Zealand to Japan
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Tumua Manu of Auckland, Braydon Ennor of Canterbury and Jordan Trainor of Auckland (L-R) compete for the ball during the round five Mitre 10 Cup match between Canterbury and Auckland at Christchurch Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Looking at the rugby-schedule, it is a Super Saturday from New Zealand to Japan. Domestic rugby finals across New Zealand, a Bledisloe Cup test in Tokyo, and many more fixtures over a 30-hour window.

That is great news for rugby lovers, as well as for the exposure of rugby union into the important sports market in Japan. Only 10 months until the 2019 Rugby World Cup – the host nation is building up it’s internal and external marketing.

In terms of the uptake of the game, having the All Blacks and Wallabies visit the country, as well as having the Brave Blossoms Japan national team play a World XV, will make the headlines. If for any positive news, the two matches are crucial in preparations for the RWC – and Asian rugby growth.

And the rugby-action began on Friday night in Tokyo. A Robbie Deans-coached World XV selection was invited to play Japan. It was a celebration, festival rugby at it’s best, and the result was secondary to entertaining – and educating – the local Asian sports market.

staged a late comeback against the WorldXV but lost the encounter 31-28, in a thrilling curtain raiser at the refurbished Hanazono Rugby Stadium.

In New Zealand, the Mitre 10 Cup Championship final was played, between Waikato and Otago. It was an opportunity for each side; for the hosts to rebound, after being demoted last season. And for Otago, it was another attempt to lift themselves up into the first division.

In the end, the power and pace of Sevu Reece and the Waikato team were too much to hold down. Winning 36-13, it will be bittersweet for head coach Jonno Gibbes, who is returning to European Professional Club Rugby after his one season in charge of the team he played and led so well.

It’s a Super Saturday from New Zealand to Japan

Running through the schedule, the full calendar covers everything from the grassroots, to International rugby and rugby league fixtures.

2:30pm – Heartland Championship Meads Cup final

As the ‘Cinderella story’ of the 2018 Heartland Championship, Thames Valley head down to South Canterbury, to play in their first major final in many years. The hosts enter the fixture as favourites, with knockout rugby experience yet, many will believe that the fighting spirit of the Swampfoxes can continue their huge rise in the third division.

South Canterbury v Thames Valley – Alpine Energy Stadium

The afternoon rugby is still a pleasure to watch. Rugby under the sunshine gives players to freedom and vision to express themselves, and that timing follows-up in the major final.

4:05pm – Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final

In a unique approach, Auckland Rugby have ‘swung open the gates open’ inviting the rugby populace to view this final free of charge. That gesture might be needed to show a number of spectators in the vast Eden Park; which can look empty with anything under 10,000. So it will make for a better sounding and more attractive venue.

Canterbury Rugby head north and bring assured confidence with them. Even while they lost at home to the Auckland team, they have bounced back – much like the Crusaders [who lost twice in 2018]. It will be the classic North v South fixture this Super Saturday, and no predictions can be made, as, on the day, the team who takes their opportunities should prevail.

Auckland v Canterbury – Eden Park (free entry)

Once the domestic rugby has concluded, spectators have been invited to stay around at Eden Park, to sit on the field and watch the All Blacks play on the large screens. A similar position that New Zealand rugby fans will assume, as their eyes head up over the Pacific, to Japan.

As such, fans of the Qantas Wallabies will also be interested in the fixture. The under-pressure Australian team will feel that this occasion is one opportunity that they could take advantage of.

New Zealand v Australia – 3:00pm (JPN) Nissan Stadium

Honouring players that reach milestones is a tradition in sport. So with Sekope Kepu reaching 100 games, and with Sonny Bill Williams raising 50 tests for New Zealand, each side will want those men to be successful.

Motivation is where the mindset should be for the All Blacks. Falling in the third Bledisloe Cup match 12 months ago, it will not want to be repeated. Yet, facing them is an Aussie side with much more to gain. A win will do two things; it will hugely suggest that the Wallabies can still be a threat at the RWC.

And secondly (and in a strange calculation) a loss to New Zealand would see them fall into second place on the World Rugby rankings. Perplexing, as Ireland have not played a test since June….and New Zealand have won several games since then. But including the loss to South Africa, the ramifications of another loss will play on the minds of the All Blacks.

Bledisloe Cup match still important for New Zealand

To prevent that, Steve Hansen has altered the line-up; some forced by injury, some by choice. How those changes improve the teams play, will only be found on this Super Saturday.

Some of the attendance on Saturday in Japan could swell with many complimentary passes shared to young children – the next generation. However, the marketing and publicity aside, Japanese sports fans may just ‘walk up’ on Saturday and will certainly be well entertained.

The All Blacks hold the trophy, so it is on show only…yet the Wallabies would love to get a leap on their longtime rivals. The first game on the 2019 grand final venue, and possibly, bragging rights heading onto each sides European opposition.

Note: the All Blacks play Japan next weekend; November 3 in Tokyo.

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The rugby continues on Sunday. Fans can watch rugby league from England, as the Kiwis take on the England Lions up in Hull, at 2:00am (NZT).

Then, on Sunday afternoon, the Lochore Cup will be played out in the Heartland Rugby ‘championship division’. Lower north island rivals Horowhenua-Kapiti meet Wairarapa Bush in Levin, at 2:30pm.

With that coverage, it completes a massive 30 hour period of rugby on another Super Saturday from New Zealand to Japan (and England too). So sit back, digest the action from the rugby and rugby league fields.

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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