The Hurricanes are set to swap Gisborne and Eketahuna for the brighter lights of Brisbane.
The Super Rugby champions have spent the last two years on bonding camps in Gisborne and played warm-up matches in Mangatainoka, Masterton or Eketahuna since 2010. But the emergence of the Brisbane Global Tens in February means the Hurricanes are going to spend an important chunk of their pre-season in Australia for the next four years.
A hefty appearance fee from Duco Events, plus a prizemoney pool of $1.6 million have seen to that.
“We’re looking forward to it. It’s something new, it kicks off the season and it’s quite exciting to come somewhere different in the pre-season,” Hurricanes chief executive Avan Lee said.
And it’s also going to be a handy way of balancing the books.
“Yeah, there’s an incentive to be here. That’s definitely a part of it and so is the fact that we’re all doing it,” said Lee.
By that he means all 10 New Zealand and Australian Super Rugby franchises, who’ll be joined in year one by Toulon, Samoa, the Panasonic Wild Knights from Japan and South Africa’s Bulls. But it’s having the New Zealand sides all involved that’s also helped sway things, given how jumpy coaches get at the idea a rival might be off playing 15-a-side rugby while they’re stuck with tens.
“One-hundred per cent. That was definitely a consideration and we all talked about it – all five New Zealand teams – and consulted with coaches and we were comfortable to do it,” Lee said.
“It’s still a bit of a leap of faith but we’re really excited. Coming over here [to Brisbane] the last few days you can see the real potential of it, they’re talking 40,000 [spectators] per day [at Suncorp Stadium] and it’s great for the game really.”
The tournament, which takes place on February 11 and 12, fills the weekend when teams would normally play the second of three Super Rugby pre-season games. They’ll now have two, with the tens in between.
For the Hurricanes it means Gisborne is out this year. They are contracted to return to Eketahuna in 2018 and it will be interesting to see how all the commitments get juggled.
In terms of 2017 Lee felt the team might fit a week-long Australian camp around the tens, while they’re about to announce a pre-season game against the Crusaders as well. Some might scoff at these camps but the Hurricanes made the Super Rugby final in each of the year’s they began their campaigns in a Gisborne camp ground.
“People do think it’s a bit woolly but you get away, you stay in fairly basic accommodation normally and you have some communal cooking and it’s just the fact the boys get to spend some time together, away from the normal grind of training and team meetings.”
There are some “guidelines” around how many top-tier players the Hurricanes will need to front for tens but, at this stage, stars such as Beauden Barrett haven’t been committed to playing. There’s also scope for a star of yesteryear to join the squad too.
“The All Blacks don’t have to play but I know our All Blacks are really interested in playing so that’ll be a conversation with the All Blacks coaches around what their return-to-play [date] looks like in the new year,” said Lee.
Source: HAMISH BIDWELL