All Blacks dream still alive in south

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    All Blacks prop Owen Franks poses for a photo with Dan O'Sullivan and his son Chace O'Sullivan (6) during a visit to Invercargill last Sunday morning.

    RUGBY Southland general manager Brian Hopley has an eye on what is unfolding in Nelson this week as Invercargill’s own quest to lock in an All Blacks test continues to bubble away.

    Nelson will host an All Blacks v Argentina test on Saturday after the Tasman Rugby Union, Tasman District Council and commercial partners teamed up to put an attractive bid to New Zealand Rugby.

    In July the Southland Express revealed Invercargill Licensing Trust board member Sean Bellew and Hopley were investigating the possibility of bringing an All Blacks test to the deep south in 2020.

    Hopley confirmed this week the potential bid for a test match remained alive.

    The tender process with New Zealand Rugby was expected to take place in November and he hoped Southland would be involved.

    Hopley said the Tasman Rugby Union had been forthcoming with details of its successful bid to help Southland get an idea as to if it could put together a similar proposal.

    Hopley felt Southland could tick the same boxes as Tasman had, which would include increasing the capacity at Rugby Park to the 21,000-mark with temporary seating.

    “I’ll also be keen to talk to (Tasman) after this weekend as well to see how it went,” he said.

    A successful bid would ultimately come down to whether there was backing from the entire community in terms of funding and other support, Hopley said.

    The response so far from key organisations had been positive, he said.

    The plan was to get a working party together to formalise that intent, but Hopley said they would hold off until there was more detail provided by New Zealand Rugby on the tender requirements.

    Bellew believed the expected financial figure needed to host an All Blacks test was within Southland’s reach.

    He had met with five “significant funders” who had indicated they were keen to back a bid, he said.

    Bellew did not want to publicly reveal that expected financial cost just yet, given other regions would be putting their own bids together.

    “If you asked the question, ‘do we have the resources’? On the information I’ve been provided, yes we do.”

    Bellew would also be checking in with people in Nelson following Saturday night’s test to gauge how it went for a city of a similar size to Invercargill.

    Test match bids have to officially be lodged through a provincial union.

    While Rugby Southland was not in a position financially to back a bid, Hopley felt the organisation owed it to the community to help investigate the prospect.

    A test match in Southland would be much bigger than rugby itself, he said, given the spin-offs it could provide the region.

    The idea would be to hold a festival in the days around the test match to promote Southland products and the region in general.

    That is where Venture Southland could play a key role, Bellew said.

    Meanwhile, 65 excited junior Blues Rugby Club players got the opportunity to mix with four All Blacks last Sunday morning in Invercargill.

    Owen Franks, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty and Luke Whitelock all spent a few hours in Invercargill on Sunday as a part of a New Zealand Rugby promotion.

    The All Blacks helped Rugby Southland staff run skills sessions, had a question-and-answer session with some of the children, and finished by signing autographs and posing for photographs.

    The four All Blacks then flew to Nelson to join the rest of the squad.

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