Liberated New Zealand fans set to flock to Super games

FILE PHOTO: Rugby World Cup - Bronze Final - New Zealand v Wales
FILE PHOTO: Rugby World Cup - Bronze Final - New Zealand v Wales

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's Super Rugby teams are welcoming the prospect of a "massive lift" from crowds flocking to their stadiums this weekend for a long-awaited taste of the nation's favourite sport.

New Zealanders on Tuesday celebrated their first day without coronavirus restrictions in three months, even as much of the rest of the world grappled with the pandemic.

Auckland Blues boss Andrew Hore said more than 20,000 tickets had been sold for Sunday's "Super Rugby Aotearoa" match against the Wellington Hurricanes.

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The 10-week domestic competition was organised after the wider Super Rugby tournament, which also involves teams from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, was postponed due to COVID-19.

"(Tickets) are really whipping out the door which is fantastic and I think it’s a sign of the fact that people want to go and have some form of social experience," Hore told reporters on Tuesday.

"It also helps the industry a lot and the industries that feed off our industry. So it’s a big boost for the place.

"We’re thinking in excess of 35,000 (will turn up) which will be an amazing result and will make for a fantastic atmosphere and a massive lift for the players of both sides."

More than 12,000 tickets have been sold for the opening match between Otago Highlanders and Waikato Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday. The Highlanders are hoping for a crowd of more than 20,000, local media reported.

While the crowds will bring much-needed funds into the game, New Zealand Rugby said on Monday it was no "silver bullet" for its struggling finances. The governing body have forecast a 70% decline in revenue due to the coronavirus shutdown.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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